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Home > Dogs > Malocclusion or Teeth Misalignment in Dogs: Vet Explains Signs, Causes & Treatment

Malocclusion or Teeth Misalignment in Dogs: Vet Explains Signs, Causes & Treatment

Close-up of the misaligned teeth of the small mixed breed dog with an underbite

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Dr. Iulia Mihai Photo

Written by

Dr. Iulia Mihai

Veterinarian, DVM MSc

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dental disease in dogs can be the cause of severe diseases of the stomach, intestines, respiratory system, joints, skin, and even the heart. For this reason, many owners are concerned about their pets’ treatment.

One oral cavity issue is malocclusion. It’s more common in dog breeds with flat faces (brachycephalic breeds), such as the Shih Tzu, Pekingese, Pug, Boxer, Bull Mastiff, or Boston Terrier.

In this article, you will learn what malocclusion is, its causes and clinical signs, and how to take care of your dog suffering from this condition.


What Is Malocclusion?

Dental malocclusion is a tooth alignment problem, i.e., an incorrect alignment that leads to an abnormal bite, with negative effects on dental and digestive health. This condition is of two types:

  • Skeletal
  • Dental

In skeletal malocclusion, the jaw is longer than normal. This abnormal length leads to a faulty alignment of the teeth. Puppies born with this problem will recover on their own if the difference between the two jaws is not too big. However, a dog’s bite will be definitively formed 10 months after birth. Beyond this moment, the remedy of the dental problem will not occur without medical intervention.

Dental malocclusion occurs when one or more teeth are not properly aligned, but the upper and lower jaws are of normal length. Most cases of malocclusion have hereditary causes and do not require treatment. In some situations, tooth extraction may be necessary.

With the appearance of permanent teeth, malocclusion can cause severe problems. When it causes trauma to the surrounding tissues or other teeth, it is called a non-functional or traumatic malocclusion and needs treatment.

Dog Malocclusion Teeth
Image Credit: Mary Swift,Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Malocclusion in Dogs?

Clinical signs are not obvious in mild cases, and the owner may not realize that something is wrong with their dog. In severe cases, dogs with malocclusion may show the following clinical signs:

  • Choosing a certain type of food (usually a wet one with large chunks)
  • Pain
  • Discomfort
  • Inability to close their mouth
  • Abnormally long jaw, with visible overbite or underbite
  • Mixed dentition (puppy and adult teeth)
  • Food falling out of their mouths
Close up of dental condition with overbite and missing teeth of a flat nosed French Bulldog dog
Image Credit: Firn,Shutterstock

Types of Malocclusions in Dogs

There are two types of malocclusions in dogs, and each is divided into subtypes.

Skeletal malocclusion

  • Class 2 malocclusion (mandibular dystoclusion or overbite) — The lower jaw is shorter than the upper one.
  • Class 3 malocclusion (underbite) — The lower jaw is longer than the upper one.
  • Maxillomandibular asymmetry — Each jaw consists of two halves, which develop independently. When there is a difference in length between the two halves, it is called rostrocaudal asymmetry (superior and/or inferior). When the two jaws do not center over each other, it is called lateral asymmetry. When there is an abnormal space between the two jaws (upper and lower) it is called an open bite.

Dental malocclusion

  • Rostral crossbite — One or more of the lower incisors are positioned in front of the upper incisors when the dog’s mouth is closed.
  • Caudal crossbite — One or more of the lower cheek teeth point more toward the cheek than the opposite upper cheek teeth when the mouth is closed.
  • Linguovert mandibular canines (lingually displaced canines) — One or both lower canines are directed inward.
  • Mesioverted maxillary canines — This can be inherited or appear secondary to persistent puppy canines.
A scruffy mixed breed dog with an underbite and floppy ears
Image Credit: Mary Swift,Shutterstock

What Are the Causes of Malocclusion in Dogs?

In dogs, the most common cause of malocclusion is persistent puppy teeth (deciduous teeth) that interfere with the eruption of adult teeth (permanent teeth). Other causes include:

  • Certain genetic, hereditary anomalies.
  • Abnormal length of the upper or lower jaw
  • Abnormally oriented teeth
  • Trauma
  • Diet that is poor in minerals and calcium
  • Too many soft foods and liquids
  • Wrong development of the teeth during the growth period
  • Lack of development of masticatory muscles
  • Rickets, certain injuries
Small mixed breed dog with an underbite. Canine malocclusion
Image Credit: Kcuxen,Shutterstock

How Do I Care for a Dog With Malocclusion?

There is nothing that you can do for your dog with malocclusion other than look for the clinical signs. In most cases, dogs do not have any difficulty eating, and the problem does not require treatment because they will simply no longer chew the food but swallow it whole. That said, there are situations in which dental extractions will be necessary. Malocclusion can cause injuries to the gums and lead to damage and premature teeth wear, favoring the occurrence of periodontal disease. In severe cases, malocclusion can also lead to jaw fracture.

When the lower jaw is shorter than the upper jaw and the dog is small, there is a possibility that the defect can be corrected in time if this difference is not too big. If you own a brachycephalic breed, it is recommended to talk to your veterinarian about any dental problems that may occur.

Regardless of the type of malocclusion, great attention must always be paid to your dog’s teeth; they must be cleaned quite often (two to three times per week) because they are prone to tartar and dental plaque.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Is a Class 1 Malocclusion in Dogs?

With this type of malocclusion, the dog has a normal bite, and there are no gaps between the mandible and the maxilla, but the teeth are crowded or with larger spaces between them. It is the least severe class of malocclusion and the most common. There is also class 2 malocclusion (overbite) and class 3 malocclusion (underbite), which are more severe because being skeletal malocclusions, they involve the upper or lower jaw.

How Do You Fix a Dog’s Malocclusion?

In most cases, malocclusion does not need treatment. If the condition is severe, there are two types of treatment: tooth extraction (the most common) or crown reduction with endodontic treatment. In some cases, dogs might even need braces. These will help dogs with severe malocclusion to bite and eat normally.

veterinarian examines a dog teeth
Image Credit: Yavdat, Shutterstock

divider-dog Conclusion

Malocclusion in dogs is among the most common dental diseases that dogs can suffer from. It has two types: skeletal and dental. Skeletal malocclusion refers to the two jaws (upper and lower), while dental malocclusion involves the teeth. With skeletal malocclusion, dogs can have one of their jaws longer or shorter, or the two halves of each jaw can develop independently and abnormally. With dental malocclusion, the numerous teeth (due to the persistence of puppy teeth) or the large spaces between them can lead to a defective bite and difficulty feeding. In most cases, malocclusions are mild and do not require treatment. In severe cases, however, dental extractions, crown reduction, or even braces can be recommended.

Featured Image Credit: Kcuxen, Shutterstock

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