How to evaluate occlusion in dogs?

We can only evaluate final occlusion in a dog once the maxillofacial region and jaws of the animal are fully developed and all permanent teeth fully erupted. This usually occurs at around 6 months of age of the dog. While we should evaluate the occlusion in puppies, we should refrain from giving a final diagnosis on occlusion of the dog, as the occlusion may still change till the 6th month of age (and slightly even later).

When we are evaluating occlusion in dogs, we should evaluate it in 6 points:

1) incisor teeth occlusion: upper incisor teeth are in front of the lower incisor teeth; lower incisor teeth touch the upper incisor teeth,

2) canine teeth occlusion: lower canine tooth lies between the upper third incisor tooth and upper canine tooth, does not touch any of the two teeth and does not touch the gum or palate,

3) premolar teeth occlusion: crowns of the lower premolar teeth lie between the crowns of the upper premolar teeth in a zig-zag pattern, crowns do not touch,

4) lower first molar tooth is not visible as it is covered by the upper fourth premolar tooth that lies buccally to it,

5) symmetry of the head is indicated by alignment of the interdental spaces of the left and right upper and lower first incisor teeth,

6) presence and location of the individual teeth.

Evaluation of the incisor teeth occlusion only will fail to evaluate the whole occlusion, relationship of the jaws and symmetry of the head.

In dogs, where all points apart the individual teeth location (6) are normal, we refer to as having dental malocclusion. However, if abnormality in any other point is noted, the dog most likely has a skeletal malocclusion.

Dental as well as skeletal malocclusions may or may not cause the dog health problems. This depends on any tissue (gum, palate, lip, other teeth) damage (or not) caused by the malocclusion. If there is no tissue trauma resulting from a malocclusion, then the malocclusion is only cosmetic in nature and no treatment is indicated. However, if any tissue damage from malocclusion is noted, the treatment is needed as soon as possible to relieve pain and discomfort of the animal and prevent any serious complications (e.g., palatal trauma and oronasal fistula, early onset of severe periodontitis, …)

If malocclusion causing trauma is noted in a puppy, it needs to be treated. The treatment of choice is extraction of the teeth causing malocclusion in order to relieve pain and remove the “dental lock” with the hopes to give jaws optimal conditions for further growth (if there is genetic potential to it).

If malocclusion causing trauma is noted in an adult dog, then there are generally 3 different treatment options:

1) extraction of teeth causing malocclusion,

2) crown shortening of the teeth causing malocclusion (usually lower canine teeth) and endodontic treatment,

3) orthodontic treatment.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all of the treatment options, so discuss all of the options in detail with your veterinarian to be able choose the most optimal treatment for your dog. And, please, do not breed your pet with malocclusion as this is considered a hereditary condition.

In dogs with mild linguoversion of the lower canine teeth (lower canine teeth are not tipped out but erupt towards the tongue), ball therapy is an easy option – have your dog play with a round, smooth rubber ball several times a day and have the dog evaluated weekly by your veterinarian.

If you have noted any problems with your animal, please consult your veterinarian.