When the vet tells you she's concerned about your dog's bite, don't assume Pal took an unwelcome nip. In dental terms, a dog's bite refers to how his teeth line up. It may seem like a minor detail, but misaligned teeth can cause your pup pain and affect how he eats.
A Good Bite
In the context of your pup's dental health, a "good bite" isn't when he takes a nip out of a would-be intruder. Instead, it's the state of his teeth being properly aligned. Such alignment is referred to as scissor bite. Teeth align with each other to form an occlusion; normal occlusion for most dogs is upper incisors overlapping his lower incisors. The lower canines should be positioned between the upper lateral incisors and canine teeth so they come between the upper teeth without touching them. Premolar position is important, too. The bottom and top premolars should not touch each other.
If Pal's bite doesn't line up properly, he has malocclusion. There are three classes of malocclusion. Class 1 usually has one or more misaligned teeth and normal premolar teeth. This class of malocclusion doesn't typically cause discomfort or require treatment. In class 2 malocclusion, the lower jaw is noticeably shorter than the upper jaw, often referred to as an overbite. This can be uncomfortable for the dog; treatment often depends on the dog's age and can include shortening or redirecting teeth. An underbite, or the condition whereby the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw, causes class 3 malocclusion. This bite is considered normal for certain breeds, such as boxers and bulldogs, and it rarely needs correction. If troubling tooth-to-tooth contact occurs, an extraction may be required.
More Than Braces
If Pal has a malocclusion, he won't necessarily need braces or a tooth pulled. An acrylic or metal inclined plane can be positioned in his mouth to redirect a tooth where it needs to go. If Pal's still a pup, rubber ball therapy may help; a young dog may benefit from holding an appropriate-size rubber ball in his mouth at least 15 minutes, three times a day. A gingival wedge can help a mild case of malocclusion by removing a wedge of gum tissue between the third incisor and canine tooth. Tooth extensions, or camouflage orthodontics, use dental plastics to build up and change the shape of teeth to help correct alignment.
Whether Pal has orthodontic treatment depends on a variety of factors. While it's always appropriate to alter a dog's bite for comfort and function, it's inappropriate to do so for cosmetic purposes. A dog's temperament is an important consideration when determining treatment; some dogs simply may not tolerate braces. Additionally, orthodontic care requires regular visits to monitor progress and make adjustments. In the case of orthodontics, it's best not to wait to see if your pup outgrows his problem. In fact, waiting can allow the problem to progress, eliminating less expensive treatment options.