What You Can Do for a Cat with Misalignment of Teeth (Malocclusion)

By Jan Bellows, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, ABVP

Cats can have malocclusion (misalignment of the teeth) much like people. Cats, like people, develop teeth after birth and this misalignment may begin as the teeth come in, or malocclusion may occur later in life due to injury. When a tooth is out of place, but it is not interfering with other teeth, rubbing against or penetrating the gum tissue, or affecting how your cat eats, a functional bite exists. Repairing a functional bite for cosmetic purposes is not necessary and is considered unethical.

When abnormally positioned teeth interfere with other teeth, rub against or penetrate the gum tissue, or affect your cat's ability to eat, a non-functional bite exists, and action needs to be taken to create a functional bite. Three treatment options exist: extraction to provide space, crown reduction and restoration, and tooth movement.

When is extraction preferred? 

Extraction of the offending tooth or teeth is usually performed, resulting in immediate relief.

Extraction of the canines (also known as fangs) can be challenging, as the roots of these teeth are very long. In some cases, a referral to a veterinary dental specialist may be recommended. Your veterinarian can recommend a dental specialist in your area.

Why not just make space rather than extract?

Removal of the damaged gum tissue (the area along the top of the gums, where they meet the surface of the teeth), where the misaligned tooth makes contact, can result in a pain-free functional bite. Unfortunately, the benefit can be short-lived if the gum tissue grows back.

This procedure involves laser ablation of the inflamed gum line affected by a malpositioned tooth creating a functional bite.

What is crown reduction and restoration?  

Reducing the length of a canine tooth will often resolve the problem of tooth penetration into the opposing gum. This is an advanced dental procedure, preserving the vitality of the tooth through vital pulp therapy or root canal therapy. Vital pulp therapy involves the removal of a layer of pulp in the tooth and placing a medicated dressing over the newly exposed pulp to allow healing. Root canal therapy involves the removal of pulp in a tooth, cleaning and sterilizing the pulp canal, and finally filling the canal with material to prevent infection. In both cases restoration with a barrier of light-cured dental composite is placed over the area. For added protection, a metallic crown can be placed.


What’s involved with tooth movement?  

Moving poorly positioned teeth to functional positions can be challenging. Teeth are either moved surgically or through the use of inclined planes (appliances that are adhered to the teeth), orthodontic buttons (or brackets, similar to those used in people), and elastics.

Orthodontic buttons and elastics used to move the malpositioned canine caudally   Functional occlusion achieved

Orthodontic movement is an advanced dental procedure that should only be performed by someone with an advanced understanding of dental anatomy, physiology, and orthodontic principles. Your veterinarian can help you find a board-certified veterinary dentist in your area or you can go to www.avdc.org.

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