What Causes a Dog's Underbite?

by Adrienne Farricelli Google
Don'y worry: Scruffy won't hide his face in shame.

Don'y worry: Scruffy won't hide his face in shame.

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While in the human world, perfect tooth alignment is the recipe for a flawless smile, in the doggy world, pooches could care less about a malocclusion. Yet, depending on the dog's breed, underbites may be considered fine according to standard, or they may be perceived as a serious, hereditary fault that is often severely penalized in the show ring. Knowing the causes for a dog's underbite can help minimize problems and prevent the reoccurrence of improper bites in bloodlines.

Genetic Factors

Normally, the upper teeth and lower teeth of dogs meet in what is called a "scissor bite." In this case, upon closing the jaw, the dog's lower canines should nicely intersect in front of the upper canines. However, in some cases, the lower teeth may protrude in front of the upper teeth, often because of genetic factors. The correct term for this type of malocclussion is underbite or reverse scissor bite. It's considered an abnormality when observed in medium or long muzzled dogs, according to All Pets Dental Clinic.

Skeletal Factors

For some breeds of dogs, an underbite is a much cherished quality that is part of the breed standard. For instance, boxers, bulldogs, Pekingese and pugs are known for having brachycephalic features. In this case, the underlying cause for the underbite is the skeletal predisposition for having a shorter than normal upper jaw. With those irresistible pushed-in faces and shorter jaws many people are fond of, the space into which the teeth erupt is limited in these pooches resulting in a “malocclusion.”

Dental Factors

In this case, unlike dogs with brachycephalic features, the underbite is not caused by a skeletal abnormality but a dental one. As puppies grow, they start losing their milk teeth, which gradually are replaced by the permanent ones. In some cases though, the puppy's baby teeth may fail to fall, and the puppy may then be stuck with the baby teeth interfering with the permanent teeth, which potentially will grow crooked due to lack of space. In some cases, in slightly undershot bites, the incisors may be the only teeth contributing to the misalignment.

Growth Factors

At times, a puppy's lower jaw may grow faster than usual becoming longer compared to the upper jaw. This uneven growth condition can be seen in puppies as young as 8 weeks of age. What happens is that certain teeth in the upper jaw may get caught behind the teeth of the lower jaw, causing the upper jaw to fail to grow at the proper rate.

Acquired Factors

In some cases, the cause for the malocclusion may not be genetic, but acquired. For instance, inappropriate chewing and tugging during the delicate phase of teething may cause bite problems in puppies where their growing teeth shift from their original position. In this case, you may want to avoid playing rough games such as tug-of-war. Tug-of-war played using towels or ropes may cause teeth to move into an abnormal position causing them to be pulled out of alignment.

Important Factors

Dogs with severe cases of undershot bites may have difficulty eating, develop improper wear and suffer damage to the soft tissues. Because undershot bites are hereditary in many cases, it's best to remove non-brachycephalic specimens with this fault from the breeding pool by neutering them. In some cases, the undershot bite is severe enough to necessitate orthodontic treatment or tooth extraction. Early intervention, when the puppy is growing can help prevent more serious problems.

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About the Author

Adrienne Farricelli has been a writer since 2005, serving as an editor, steward and writer for several online publications. She brings expertise in canine topics, previously working with the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification as a dog trainer from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Farricelli offers reward-based training and behavior consults at Rover's Ranch Home Boarding and Training.

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