Bite Abnormalities in Dogs & Common Treatments

Bite Abnormalities in Dogs & Common Treatments

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and no two are exactly alike. One of the more noticeable variations in canines is an abnormal length of the mandible (lower jaw) compared to the maxilla (upper jaw). All abnormalities of jaw lengths and/or positions are called malocclusions.


What Causes Bite Abnormalities in Dogs?

The cause of malocclusions in dogs is largely unknown, although it is suspected that a genetic link is present. It is thought that some occlusal abnormalities may be congenital because sometimes multiple puppies in a litter will be affected with similar malocclusions or even several puppies across different litters from the same line.

Additionally, certain breeds are more predisposed to specific malocclusions, indicating that genetics plays a role. Genetics can’t be the only cause, however, as sometimes only one puppy in a line of dogs with normal occlusion is affected. This may be caused by environmental factors or the individual dog’s growth. Ultimately, the most important thing is to ensure that our patients, your pets, are comfortable and able to eat without pain.

Malocclusions themselves don’t require treatment. In humans, surgeries are sometimes performed to correct an abnormal jaw length and improve cosmesis. In animals, cosmetic appearance is not an ethical consideration—we would never want to perform surgery on a patient to just make them look different.


Types of Bite Abnormalities

Bite abnormalities in dogs fit into 4 classifications. A longer-than-average mandible or “underbite” is commonly called mandibular distoclusion or a class 3 malocclusion in dentistry. When the mandible is shorter than it should be and there is an “overbite,” this is called mandibular mesioclusion or a class 2 malocclusion. Both class 2 and class 3 malocclusions are “skeletal malocclusions,” meaning that the abnormal length of the jaw bone caused the abnormality.

A third type of malocclusion is called a class 1 malocclusion, which occurs when the jaws are the appropriate length, however, specific teeth are tilted in an abnormal direction—sometimes causing trauma. This malocclusion is a “dental malocclusion,” meaning that the skeleton is normal, but the teeth are at an abnormal angle.


Class 1 Malocclusions

The most common class 1 malocclusion is linguoverted mandibular canines, commonly called base-narrow canines. These dogs have mandibular canine teeth ranging from slightly to severely tilted inward, causing trauma to the roof of the mouth or the gingival tissue between the upper teeth. In patients with class 1 malocclusions, sometimes removal of the baby teeth is enough of a treatment to allow the adult teeth to come in normally! It’s always exciting when we don’t have to perform an additional procedure on a patient who just fixed their problem.

Multiple other class 1 malocclusions exist, all named regarding the direction in the abnormally positioned teeth point. These teeth can be pointed in any direction and may or may not cause trauma. Again, it is essential to remember that treating malocclusions that are not causing trauma or pain is not ethical. As much as we may want it to be, esthetics should not be a consideration in veterinary dentistry when deciding whether or not to perform a treatment.


Class 2 Malocclusions

Patients with Class 2 malocclusions have a shorter mandible than it should be. This means the mandibular canine teeth are further back in the dog’s mouth than usual. As a result, the mandibular canine teeth often hit the hard palate causing painful ulcerations on the roof of the mouth.

This is typically first noticed when the dog is a young puppy—they will sometimes be hesitant to have their face touched and may show signs of oral pain. These symptoms will improve when the deciduous (baby) canine teeth are extracted or fall out, but in dogs with this type of malocclusion, the adult canines will typically erupt in the exact location and cause similar pain.

Ultimately, if this type of trauma is ongoing over months to years, damage can occur to other teeth or the hard palate. Most importantly, the dog would live in chronic pain, which is not a good way of life!


Class 3 Malocclusions

Class 3 malocclusions are also quite common, particularly in breeds like bulldogs. Frequently class 3 malocclusions don’t cause any trauma or need treatment. However, on occasion, the malocclusion is so severe that the maxillary (upper) incisors occlude with the soft tissue of the floor of the mouth.

There are a few different treatment options in cases like these, depending on how severe the problem is, ranging from extracting the offending teeth to shortening and smoothing off any sharp points that may be causing trauma.


Class 4 Malocclusions

The least common type of malocclusion is a class 4 malocclusion, also called maxillomandibular asymmetry. These patients have asymmetric upper and lower jaws, often called wry bite. The problem with this term is that it does not refer to the direction in which the jaw is misaligned.

For example, a class 4 malocclusion can be in the rostrocaudal direction, meaning the jaws are inappropriately aligned from front to back. The jaws can also be misaligned in the dorsoventral direction, which means the abnormality is from top to bottom. The third type of class 4 malocclusion is side-to-side malocclusion, which looks just like it sounds.


How Do We Treat Malocclusions in Dogs?

As previously referenced, there are many possible options for treating malocclusions. All treatments involve movement of teeth rather than correction of the jaw bones, contrary to human malocclusion treatment that often includes surgical adjustment or modification of the jaw.

  • Gingivectomy ramps are commonly performed for patients with class 2 malocclusions. In these procedures, a small piece of gingiva from between the maxillary teeth is removed, which helps the lower tooth slide into the appropriate position.
  • Crown tip extensions are also commonly performed to treat linguoverted mandibular canines. During this procedure, composite material is placed at the tip of the improperly positioned tooth to encourage it to slide into place over time.
  • Inclined planes are devices bonded to the upper teeth to encourage the lower canines to slide into the correct location. Both of these devices are typically removed weeks to months after placement.
  • Endodontic procedures can also be performed to alleviate a traumatic malocclusion when moving the tooth is not an option. This is done by removing the pointed crown of the tooth and putting a small filling in the pulp chamber. These teeth remain alive and continue to mature in time but will not cause pain or ongoing damage to the surrounding structures.

Some procedures performed to fix malocclusions can require multiple anesthetic events and device adjustments. Others are done in one session and rarely need to be revised. Many options exist, with only a few of the most common treatments mentioned in this post!

Regardless of your pet’s malocclusion, we are always happy to see you for a consultation and discuss what options exist and what options sound like the best choice for your family. Of course, we are biased, but we think dogs with malocclusions are some of the cutest dogs around!


Veterinary Dentist in Colorado Springs

We look forward to meeting you and helping your companion be free of pain and able to live and eat comfortably. If you or your general practice veterinarian have any questions about your dog’s bite (occlusion), please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery. We can be contacted by phone at (719)536-9949 or send us an email at


Photo by Robert Vergeson on Unsplash