Is your puppy a chewer? Do their needle-sharp teeth bring a tear to your eye? There may be a reason for this…
One of the most common behavioural issues we see in puppies is problematic chewing. The majority of the time this is normal behavior which can be easily managed with simple training. Sometimes it can be a symptom of dental malocclusion. Malocclusion is when the teeth don’t properly align and can result in pain as the teeth apply pressure to the gums. These defects can be detected by the veterinarian at puppy vaccination and health checks.
The most common malocclusion requiring intervention is a Class 2 malocclusion (base narrow mandible). This type of abnormality results in the lower canines impinging on the hard palate (the roof of the mouth) causing discomfort and pain. Often the first sign is a puppy who likes to carry a toy in its mouth. The toy acts as a ‘buffer’ preventing pain when the mouth closes. Fortunately a relatively simple surgical intervention can alleviate pain and allow the adult lower (mandibular) canines to erupt correctly.
In rectifying the malocclusion, time is of the essence… The deciduous ‘baby’ canines should be removed as early as 12 weeks of age. Extraction provides immediate pain relief and often allows the adult teeth to erupt outside the gum line. The adult canines erupt on the inside (medially) to the deciduous canines. By removing the deciduous canines it allows the adult teeth to erupt further outside (laterally).
Once the deciduous canines have been extracted, games can be employed to further manipulate the direction at which the adult teeth grow. Tug-of-war is an excellent tool to ‘pull’ the adult mandibular canines forward (rostrally). By applying forward traction, for 20 minutes three times a day, the adult teeth are pulled forward and clear of the gum line.
These interventions are relatively cheap and usually result in satisfactory resolution to the problem. Whilst the occlusion may not be perfect, the patient is pain free and able to eat and play normally. In rare cases more invasive and expensive surgical procedures are required to be employed. Some of these procedures can be performed by your general practice veterinarian whilst others need the expertise of a specialist veterinary dentist.
So to all those puppies out there – show your owners your pearly whites and chew to your hearts content!!!