Orthodontics for pets is not frivolous and is seldom performed for cosmetic purposes. Orthodontic procedures are the tools used to improve dental function and reduce pain.
Teeth that are crowded, rotated, or tilted at abnormal angles can result in:
1. Excessive wear: when abnormally aligned teeth grind against each other, the abrasion frequently wears through the enamel, causing the weakened tooth to fracture so that the nerve becomes exposed.
2. Pain in the jaw joints as well as in the gums, lips, cheeks, and teeth.
3. Early onset and increased severity of oral (mouth) infection.
4. Damage to the soft tissues of the mouth from sharp teeth penetrating the unprotected gum and mouth tissues. Lower teeth can actually poke holes through the hard palate, causing food to be packed into the nasal cavity!
Jaws do not grow at equal rates. If deciduous (baby) teeth erupt during an accelerated growth phase of one jaw, both sets of primary teeth can interlock and result in an abnormal bite. Even genetically normal dogs can occasionally develop abnormal bites due to the interlock of primary teeth. If an under bite is noted before the permanent teeth erupt, treatment may be helpful. Removing the primary teeth (from the shorter jaw) that are interfering with the forward jaw growth may allow the upper jaw to lengthen unimpeded, if the procedure is performed by 10 weeks of age. This procedure, called interceptive orthodontics will correct about 50% of minor jaw length malocclusions by the time permanent teeth erupt. Extracting teeth does not stimulate jaw growth; it only removes a mechanical barrier to genetic control of the growth process.
Breeders, show judges, veterinarians, and others who wish to describe specific dental conditions in dogs and cats should use proper orthodontic terms. Over bite, open bite, over jet, level bite, overshot, under bite, anterior cross bite, posterior cross bite, wry bite, and base narrow canines are orthodontic terms that are confusing at times.
Missing or Extra Teeth
Dogs and cats may be born without the proper number of teeth. The overcrowding from extra (supernumerary) teeth can cause periodontal disease. The American Kennel Club sets acceptable standards for show dogs about the minimum number of teeth for each breed. Dental x-rays can be taken as early as 10 weeks of age to evaluate if the dog has the correct number teeth. X-rays are recommended as a part of the prepurchase examination in certain breeds. Missing teeth (hypodontia) usually occur in the premolar area, but any tooth in the mouth may not erupt. Missing or extra teeth are considered genetic faults. Collies and Doberman Pinchers are most commonly affected. Sometimes the missing tooth is trapped below the gum line, and a dental x-ray can be taken to determine if there is an unerupted tooth.