What is Teeth Misalignment?
Misalignment of the teeth in cats (malocclusion) occurs when the teeth or jaw is not properly situated, which prohibits proper function. This misalignment can range from minor or cosmetic to major or functional and can have a severe impact on your cat’s well-being. While malocclusion can occur as a result of an injury, it is typically seen beginning with kittens and is a condition that will worsen over time as your cat’s jaw structure and teeth continue to grow.
Symptoms of Teeth Misalignment in Cats
Misalignment of teeth will most likely be evident during any examination of the mouth or bite. In the absence of an oral exam, owners should watch for the following symptoms, which may be signs that there is a misalignment issue:
- Difficulty chewing
- Small pieces of food left behind
- Unexplained wounds to gums from teeth striking inappropriately
- Abscesses as a result of injury to mouth
- Exposed canines
- Lopsided appearance to mouth
There are a variety of different types of misalignment affecting various functions and specific areas of your cat’s mouth. The following are some of the most common types of malocclusion.
- Mandibular Distoclusion: Also known as an overbite. Occurs when the top of the jaw is longer and extends out excessively over the bottom jaw.
- Mandibular Mesioclusion: Also known as an underbite. Occurs when the bottom of the jaw is longer and extends past the top portion of the jaw, creating a jutting chin appearance.
- Maxillary Mandibular Asymmetry: Also known as a wry bite. Occurs when either the right or the left side of the jaw does not grow at the same rate as the other side. Creates the appearance that the top and bottom jaws are not on the same angle.
Individual teeth may also be misaligned or growing in the wrong direction, independent of or in connection with a whole mouth misalignment condition.
Causes of Teeth Misalignment in Cats
Kittens are typically born toothless and with a relatively longer upper jaw, both of which characteristics allow for easier nursing. As a kitten grows, the jaws should grow in proper proportion to allow for weaning from their mother onto other types of solid food. Misalignment of teeth occurs when either the jaw or individual teeth fail to grow at their normal rate. Common causes of this include:
- Congenital or hereditary defect
- Failure to lose deciduous or “baby” teeth
- Too many adult teeth in mouth
- Poor or inappropriate nutrition
- Trauma to the face or jaw
Diagnosis of Teeth Misalignment in Cats
Diagnosis of teeth misalignment will begin with a thorough physical examination of your cat’s mouth and jaw area. Your vet will count the number of teeth and, if possible, carefully massage the gums to determine whether any teeth are erupting or attempting to erupt around retained baby teeth. Misalignment of teeth can typically be diagnosed as early as six weeks old although it is rare that most owners bring kittens this young for veterinary visits. It will, therefore, be important to an accurate diagnosis for you to provide your vet with a history of development of your cat’s teeth, if possible.
In addition to the physical exam, your vet may also order x-rays of your cat’s jaw area to confirm the presence of retained baby teeth. This will also allow the veterinarian to rule out defects in the structure of the jaw or potential trauma.
Treatment of Teeth Misalignment in Cats
Treatment of teeth misalignment in your cat will depend on the severity of the condition and the age of your cat at the time of diagnosis. In less severe cases, teeth misalignment will correct itself over time as the baby teeth drop out and make room for the adult cat teeth. Your veterinarian will use the results of their physical examination and x-ray imaging to determine the likelihood of self-correction.
In some cases, treatment of teeth misalignment may require extraction of the immature teeth to make room for the adult versions. These procedures are routine, but will require your cat to be placed under anesthesia. Prior to surgery, your vet will order a complete blood profile to ensure the cat is healthy enough for surgery. Once the baby teeth are extracted, the adult teeth will have the room needed to properly erupt and correction of the misalignment should occur over a period of weeks to several months. In some cases, cat versions of braces may also be recommended to correct bite issues if adult teeth have already erupted in in appropriate alignment.
Recovery of Teeth Misalignment in Cats
In most cases, prognosis for full recovery from teeth misalignment is good. If extraction is needed, you will need to carefully follow post-surgical procedures recommended by your vet to ensure proper healing. For long term management, you should work with your vet to develop an appropriate oral hygiene routine for your cat. This may involve special treats which scrub your cat’s teeth. Your routine may also include regular teeth cleaning, both at your vet’s office and at home. Special tooth brushes and cleaning pastes are available for use at home on your cat. With appropriate cleaning and veterinary care, your cat should recover well from teeth misalignment issues.