Most dogs are born with reasonably even and straight teeth. Just like humans, however, not every dog has a set of perfect pearly whites. In a healthy, aligned mouth, dogs have a total of 42 adult teeth where the left and right side mirror each other.
Sometimes you will meet a dog with many of those 42 teeth misaligned, leaving them with an overbite or underbite. While this can look comical to some, it can result in complications for the dog, including oral hygiene and eating problems.
What Is an Overbite and What Causes It
The relationship between the maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw) in a dog’s mouth is defined as occlusion. Abnormalities in this relationship lead to malocclusion, also known as an abnormal bite or an overbite in dogs.
It is common for most breeds to have a slight overlap of the upper front teeth. The lower canine (fang) should fit in front of the upper canine when the jaw is closed. An overbite occurs when a dog’s lower jaw is significantly shorter than their upper jaw.
Different terms (overshot jaw, overjet, parrot mouth, class two malocclusion, or mandibular brachynathism) describe the same result – the dog’s teeth aren’t aligning correctly. As the dog bites, the teeth can become improperly locked together, creating severe crookedness as the jaw cannot grow appropriately.
Overbite and other forms of malocclusion in dogs are hereditary, which means that a dog with an overbite can pass the defect down to their puppies, and thus, future generations. This genetic aspect explains why certain dog breeds are predisposed to the problem.
The Difference Between an Overbite and an Underbite
An underbite or a class three occlusion is a concern when there is tooth-to-tooth or tooth-to-gum contact. An underbite is common in dogs with a short face and broad muzzle, which are more likely to have an upper jaw shorter than the lower jaw. Dogs with this type of facial structure are referred to as brachycephalic dog breeds.
In some breeds, this is their “normal occlusion” like the Boxer, Boston terrier, and bulldog breeds. However, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Maltipoo, Cavoodle, and other breeds can have lower canine teeth that strike the upper incisor tooth or gum tissue. The tongue and the bottom of the mouth are more likely to suffer injury.
On the other hand, the lower canine teeth striking the roof of the mouth or palate results in an overbite or class two malocclusion. Dogs having a long and narrow muzzle are more likely to have the lower jaw shorter than the upper jaw, resulting in an overbite.
Dogs with this facial structure are called dolichocephalic dog breeds – Afghan hounds, Basset hounds, Bloodhounds, Dachshunds, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, Italian greyhounds, Poodles, and Siberian huskies. These dolichocephalic dog breeds are most prone to having an overbite due to genetic or hereditary reasons. Overbite is a painful condition that develops in both puppies and adult dogs.
Compared to an underbite, dental therapy should be performed as soon as possible to provide a comfortable and functional bite. Hence, there is a need to differentiate various malocclusions and look for the treatments accordingly.
What Can You Do to Help?
Minor overbite problems tend to correct themselves as the puppy matures. If you are the parent of a dog that suffers from an overbite, the two things you can do are maintaining good dental hygiene of your puppy and taking care of their diet.
- Dental hygiene
It is essential to clean your dog’s teeth at least once a week. Use toothbrushes specially designed for dogs. You can also purchase flavored toothpaste that will entice your dog to let you brush their teeth. Make sure that you clean the inside and outside of the teeth. You should also gently brush their gums and tongue.
It can be challenging to brush your dog’s teeth, especially when they are misaligned. Put in the extra effort needed and take your time to clean the teeth that are hard to reach. Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly to stop plaque buildup can prevent the overbite from becoming more severe. If there are signs of an overbite, it is best to avoid any tug-of-war games with your dog, since that can put additional strain and stress on the jaw and could exacerbate the deformation.
Overbite dogs usually have difficulty eating. If that’s the case with your dog, you may wish to speak to your vet to see if tooth removal would help. Regardless of their special needs, your dog has to get the daily required nutrients for healthy development. You can also hand-feed your dog, or talk to a dog trainer to find other ways to improve your dog’s mealtimes.
For example, you can give them dry food to help clean the teeth, and special dog biscuits and chews for dental care. Giving them raw beef bones, especially rib bones, also helps maintain teeth health.
When Should You Let the Vet Take Over?
Just as you would want to cure a painful skin condition or a sore joint in your pet, consider relieving pain in your pet’s mouth. Dental examinations for puppies are the first step to minimize discomfort and the effects of an overbite.
Puppies begin to show signs of an overbite as early as 8-12 weeks old. By the time a puppy is eight months old, their jaw alignment permanently sets, making any overbite treatment much more challenging. This gives you a relatively narrow window to detect and correct overbites, but it is not impossible.
- Puppies up to 12 weeks
To relieve the pain of tooth-to-palate contact while allowing the lower jaw to grow to its genetic potential, extraction therapy of the puppy’s teeth is recommended as early as possible. Unfortunately, most lower jaws still remain too short. Therefore, they must be re-evaluated around six months of age to select the best therapy.
Although braces, spacers, and other orthodontic accessories can be applied to a dog’s teeth to help correct an overbite, orthodontic therapy, which deals with the extraction of the lower canine teeth shortening the teeth (crown reduction) and pulp capping, is generally preferred.
- Puppies up to 8 months
A possible solution in such overbite cases is dog braces. A special plate, like a human dental retainer, fitted in the dog’s mouth is another option. Tooth shortening may be required in severe cases of overbite. This is unlikely to resolve the issue at this age, but it can prevent further injury of the roof of the dog’s mouth by bottom teeth.
- Puppies older than 8 months
Although undergoing braces and tooth sharpening treatments become increasingly difficult for the dog, tooth shortening may still be possible. In some cases, the only option remaining is removing teeth. Restorative treatments, where the pup’s teeth are either replaced or modified using composite resins, can also help manage severe overbite cases.
Don’t Lose Hope
If your dog’s overbite is causing you and your pup sleepless nights, keep in mind that not all is lost. In breeds like the German shepherd, an overbite may spontaneously correct itself, given the gap between the upper and lower incisors is not greater than a couple of millimeters. Improvement may continue until the dog is ten months old, and the jaws stop growing, so keep an eye on your pup’s gnashers.
Tooth decay and neglect for a dog suffering from overbite can lead to serious health problems, including heart problems, gastrointestinal diseases, and, in some cases, death. An overbite might be disconcerting for both you and your pup. Still, with proper care and timely treatment, it can be minimized or completely corrected, preserving your dog’s dental and overall health.