If showing dogs is your bread and butter, you know how improper teeth alignment can take a bite out of your show ring prospects. However, a malocclusion goes far beyond being a merely cosmetic ordeal. While your pup doesn't care about having a beautiful smile, overbites can cause significant problems.
The way your puppy's top and bottom dental arches intersect with each other is known as "occlusion." The scissor bite, where the upper incisors neatly overlap the lower incisors and the premolars meet in a sawtooth fashion, is the most common and most desirable type of occlusion observed in medium- to long-muzzled dogs. The even or level bite is another common type of occlusion, but in this case the incisors meet edge to edge. Because this type of contact wears down the teeth's surfaces, a level bite isn't considered ideal.
Any deviation from the scissor bite is considered a malocclusion according to Veterinary Medicine. However, some exceptions to the rule exist. In certain dog breeds, flaws and imperfections seem to have their own appeal. What health standards technically consider a malocclusion, certain breed standards actually consider the norm. Certain types of malocclusions, however, aren't considered acceptable in any breed.
Also known as parrot mouth, over shot and over jet, an overbite occurs when the upper jaw extends beyond the lower jaw. Because the upper teeth overlap the lower teeth, this type of malocclusion prevents your pup's chompers from aligning snugly as they should. Dogs with elongated muzzles such as collies, shelties, dachshunds, and Russian wolfhounds are commonly affected. Overbites are unfortunately classified as a class II malocclusion and a major genetic fault.
You may think the condition of your puppy's gnashers is no biggie, but depending on the severity of the malocclusion, your pup may encounter several difficulties. A minor overbite may be a purely cosmetic concern, but in severe cases, puppies may have trouble chewing and injuries may result from the lower teeth hitting the roof of the mouth. To ensure your pup's pearly whites are growing correctly, it's a good idea to have them thoroughly examined by your vet when your pup is around 2 to 3 months of age.
The Course of Events
Interestingly, kitties and puppies are naturally born with an overshot upper jaw so they're capable of nursing. Then, once they're weaned and have started eating solid food, their mandibles go through a growth spurt, nearly reaching their adult proportions. When this growth spurt doesn't occur and the milk teeth erupt, the upper canines may protrude over the lower ones, preventing the lower jaw from developing to its proper length, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
Don't Give up Hope
If your pup's overbite is causing you sleepless nights, consider that not all is lost, since the jaw is still developing. In some breeds, such as the German shepherd, an overshot bite may spontaneously correct on its own as long as the gap between the upper and lower incisors is not greater than the head of a wooden match. Keep an eye on your pup's gnashers, as improvement may continue up until the puppy is 10 months old and his jaws stop growing.
In severe overbite cases, extractions and restorative treatments can help manage and prevent injury to the pup's soft oral tissues. If you're planning to breed your puppy in the future, consider that overshot bites have a genetic basis and can be passed down from generation to generation. Because of this, the American Kennel Club prohibits dogs who have received interventional orthodontic treatments from competing in the conformation ring.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.