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Orthodontics give dogs a healthy bite

Marty Becker The Spokesman-Review

We are inundated with images of people with perfect smiles, clean teeth, bright, and standing all in a pretty row.

But did you know orthodontics is a burgeoning field for dogs?

When people first hear about canine orthodontics, they shake their heads and roll their eyes, assuming these types of procedures are foolish. Not so.

Canine orthodontic procedures are not done for cosmetic reasons. For dogs – whose teeth are not just used for chewing but also like hands to pick up and carry objects – a healthy bite is a necessity. Certain orthodontic problems in dogs can lead to serious and painful conditions in the dog’s mouth and cause a marked decrease in the quality of life.

The normal bite for a dog is called the scissor bite, in which the upper front teeth (incisors) overlap in front of the lower ones. The canine (or fang teeth) on the lower jaw are positioned halfway between the third incisor and the canine tooth on the upper jaw when the mouth is closed.

Any deviation from the scissor bite is called malocclusion (bad bite). In some breeds, like English bulldogs, we’ve selectively bred for the malocclusion look.

“Fifty percent of purebred dogs have malocclusions that are considered normal for the breed standard, not all of which require orthodontic therapy,” says veterinarian Dr. Daniel Carmichael of the Veterinary Medical Center in West Islip, NY.

Treating a bad bite can involve simple things like a veterinarian removing persistent deciduous (baby) teeth, or at the other end of the spectrum having a board-certified veterinary dentist apply braces. The goal of orthodontic treatment is to provide the dog with a healthy and functional bite – not necessarily a perfect one.

In fact, orthodontic treatment disqualifies dogs from being allowed to compete in dog shows.

One common and very painful condition is called “linguoversion of the mandibular canine teeth,” also called “base narrow.” Translation: The canine or fang teeth on the lower jaw are slanted in and press against or penetrate the roof of the mouth.

Yes, it’s extremely painful, and the affected dogs can be shy, withdrawn or aggressive.

Sometimes, these lower fang teeth can poke through the roof of the mouth and cause a horrible infection called oral nasal fistula. According to Carmichael, this problem can be corrected with a variety of procedures that include removing a wedge of gum to allow the tooth to rotate into proper position; applying acrylic planes that act as ramps to direct teeth into a healthier position; or building up the height and changing the shape of the tooth with dental plastics (called camouflage orthodontics) so that the newly created tip occludes normally. But first, you may want to try a rubber ball.

One study showed that having young dogs with this condition hold an appropriately sized and properly shaped rubber ball or chew toy (e.g. lacrosse ball or spherical round rubber chew toy like the round end of a Kong) in their mouths for a minimum of 15 minutes, three times per day, can correct many of these base narrow conditions. The ball acts as an orthodontic appliance (inclined plane), applying forces to the affected teeth every time the dog bites down on it.

“The elegance of this dental physical therapy is its simplicity and low cost, as it doesn’t require anesthesia,” says Carmichael. But it’s not as simple as sticking any old rubber ball in your dog’s mouth.

“It is imperative for a veterinarian to choose a rubber device that is the proper size and shape for the individual patient and carefully instruct the owner on its use.” To encourage the dog to keep the ball in its mouth for extended periods, Carmichael says pet owners often sit cross-legged on the floor and hold the ball or device in the pet’s mouth, encouraging them with “good-girls,” “atta-boys” and the promise of a tasty treat when the session is done.

Done correctly on properly selected cases, the ball treatment works about 75 percent of the time.

Because pets require anesthesia for most dental procedures and some may require multiple procedures, orthodontics can be expensive. According to Carmichael costs, include:

•Rubber ball therapy: $5

•Average price of gum resection: $1,000

•Acrylic orthodontic appliance: $1,500

•Camouflage orthodontics: $1,500

A dog’s pearly whites with a healthy and functional bite: priceless!

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