THE SKINNY ON
Dr. Jordy Mogen
Vet & Breeder
You're probably here because you either have or are thinking about getting a puppy with "base narrow canines" and you're trying to asses if it's a big deal or not...
Dogs have 42 teeth; 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 pre-molars, and 10 molars. In a normal occlusion, more common referred to as "bite", the upper incisors should gently overlap the lower incisors and the lower canine should land between the 3rd upper incisor and the upper canine.
The most common malocclusion in dogs is linguoverted mandibular canines, AKA
BASE NARROW CANINES
Base narrow canines, which we will now refer to as BNCs, occur when one or both
of the mandibular canine teeth point inward toward the tongue and make contact with the upper gums and/or soft palate, often resulting in a small defect in the soft tissue.
Mild BNCs with small defects in the gingiva & palate
Although present in many other dog breeds, the standard poodle is the poster child for BNCs. This is thought to be the result of selecting for a long and narrow muzzle consistent with the breed standard. Along with the selection for the aesthetic we've come to love and expect for the poodle, came a slimming of the mandibles (lower jaw bones) and tendency for BNCs.
BNCs have likely been present in poodles for hundreds of years. With the rising popularity of both poodles and doodles, people are starting to talk about the issue more than ever before! BNCs are commonly identified at a poodle or doodle puppy's first vet visit. (FYI mild BNCs are often MISSED at a puppy's first vet visit if the vet is not familiar with the issue and specifically looking FOR it).
Veterinarians who are not familiar with this common issue may become quite concerned, even with MILD cases, and make suggestions for aggressive treatment, including extraction or referral to a veterinary dentist.
To be clear, I am not vet-bashing here! I AM a vet and when I saw my first few cases of BNCs, I made similar recommendations. However, working in the poodle and doodle breeding communities and seeing hundreds of examples resolve without surgery has taught me that things are often not as dire as originally thought.
The good news is that the vast majority of mild cases will resolve with little to no intervention!
The anatomic relationship between the palate and lower canine actually promotes resolution of BNC in mild cases. The soft palate serves to push the canines out into a more normal and appropriate location every time the puppy closes its mouth. This resolution can be hastened in mild to moderate cases by "ball therapy". While I do believe there is some inherent discomfort with BNCs, most puppies with mild cases continue to eat and play with toys without any pain medications. If you find your puppy is in pain, please make a vet appointment. To read more about how to do ball therapy, please click the resource linked at the bottom of the page!
Moderate to severe cases of BNC, as well as cases with multiple forms of malocclusion (i.e. wry, over, or under bites), may necessitate the extraction of the puppy's baby teeth. This procedure can be carefully performed under general anesthesia by a veterinary dentist or an experienced general practitioner.
The adult canine teeth will typically begin to erupt between 5 to 6 months of age. It is critical that if your puppy had BNC with their baby teeth, that you monitor how the adult teeth come in! The adult teeth are going to be present for the rest of your dog's life, so it's important that they are both comfortable and functional for your pet. Some adult canines may come in normally and require no further treatment and others may require us to intervene so that they can land in a comfortable position.
When you see the adult canines erupting around 5-6 months, restart ball therapy and make a recheck appointment with your vet to see if further treatment is necessary!
Persistent BNCs in adult dentition is cause for re-check and possible referral to a vet dentist. The presence of multiple types of malocclusion such as wry, over or under bites, or retained puppy teeth, can exacerbate BNCs and complicate treatment options. Some of the most difficult cases to manage can be those with over bite and BNCs. Depending on the BNCs and the severity of the other malocclusion, these cases DO often require intervention and referral to a veterinary dentist is generally recommended, which can be spendy! A vet dentist may recommend extraction of one or more teeth, crown reduction (shortening the length of the canines), or orthodontics, aka doggy braces. Yes, they're real! A common orthodontic technique used with BNCs is the inclined plane retainer. To read more, please click the button at the bottom of the page!
BNCs are hereditary in nature. This is supported both by their prevalence in particular breeds and in particular bloodlines. In my own experience, I have found them to be very common in both solid colored and multicolor poodles. BNCs are also prevalent in doodles of all kinds, but especially doodles with high poodle content or multigenerational doodles. Unfortunately, the hybrid vigor of crossing different breeds with poodles to make doodles does NOT appear to eliminate this issue. To date, there is no available genetic testing for malocclusions of any kind. Malocclusions are currently understood to be recessively carried, but the result of complex interaction between many genes and can be hard to predict. For example, dogs with normal bites can produce puppies with malocclusions and vice versa.
Given the prevalence of this issue in the breed, it would be exceedingly difficult to remove all poodles with any spectrum of BNCs from the breeding population. However, I do CAUTION breeders from choosing breeding prospects with BNCs. If possible, I always encourage breeders to choose puppies with normal bites! If a breeder chooses to keep a breeding prospect with mild BNCs as a puppy, it is important to ensure that the issue resolved prior to adulthood. It is my personal recommendation that dogs who have severe cases of BNCs as a puppy and/or BNCs still present with their adult dentition should not be selected as breeding prospects. If you are selecting FOR a known defect, you may increase both the prevalence and severity of that defect in future offspring. Please breed responsibly, folks!
** This article is written for the purposes of general education only and not meant to serve as medical advice for your pet's care. Please consult with your primary vet or a vet dentist to generate a specific treatment plan for your pet. I am unable to give medical advice for your pet unless we have a veterinary-client-patient relationship which requires both an office visit and physical examination each year. **
Jordan Mogen, DVM
Small Animal Veterinarian & Dog Breeder
Last updated: May 2022
Anatomic art by: Karli Mogen