If your upper and lower jaw doesn't line up the way they're supposed to, you likely have a malocclusion. Our Langley orthodontists discuss these conditions and what it means for your oral health.
What is malocclusion?
A malocclusion or bad bite is one of the most common dental problems that our Langley orthodontists see in patients. When you have malocclusion, your upper and lower teeth don’t align properly when you close your jaw. Malocclusion typically happens when your teeth are crowded — meaning your teeth are too large for your mouth — or are crooked. But it can also happen if your upper and lower jaws aren’t aligned. Malocclusion is usually treated with orthodontics or braces. Some more serious malocclusion might require surgery.
Can malocclusion affect my health?
Left untreated, malocclusion can cause several health problems. Apart from causing dental problems such as decayed teeth, losing teeth or developing gum disease, malocclusion can affect how you chew food or how you speak. It can also damage your tooth enamel or cause problems with your jaw.
Just as important, untreated malocclusion can affect your mental health. Researchers have found connections between malocclusion and self-esteem. Some studies show people who have malocclusion avoid social situations and relationships because they feel self-conscious about their appearance.
What causes malocclusion?
Malocclusion can happen as a result of several different things:
- Your teeth are too large for your jaw, causing your teeth to crowd together and affect the alignment of your upper and lower jaw.
- You sucked your thumb frequently as a baby or toddler.
- You lost a tooth and your remaining teeth shifted to fill that gap.
- You have an inherited condition that affects your jaw, causing your teeth to be misaligned.
Can teeth grinding (bruxism) cause malocclusion?
Some researchers believe grinding your teeth can be a risk factor for malocclusions. Some people grind their teeth when they’re feeling stressed, anxious or angry.
Can malocclusion cause temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ)?
Malocclusion can cause TMJ, which are disorders that affect your jaw joints and surrounding muscles and ligaments.
Symptoms of malocclusion
Your appearance is the most common symptom of malocclusion. You might have a noticeable overbite or underbite. Overbite or overjet (retrognathism) happens when teeth in your lower jaw are too far behind teeth in your upper jaw. Underbite happens when your upper front teeth are too far behind your lower front teeth. Other symptoms are:
- Difficulty or discomfort when biting or chewing.
- Speech difficulties are rare but include a lisp.
- Mouth breathing.
- Inability to bite into food correctly.
How is malocclusion diagnosed by your dentist or orthodontist?
Dental professionals typically check to see if your teeth are aligned as part of your regular dental visits. They might take dental X-rays to learn more about your condition or make impressions of your teeth. Your regular provider will refer you to an orthodontist for malocclusion treatment.
What are malocclusion classes?
There are three classes of malocclusion. The classes are based on your bite and whether your upper or lower teeth are misaligned:
- Class 1 malocclusion is the most common. The bite is normal, but the upper teeth slightly overlap the lower teeth.
- Class 2 malocclusion, called retrognathism or overbite, occurs when the upper jaw and teeth severely overlap the bottom jaw and teeth.
- Class 3 malocclusion, called prognathism or underbite, occurs when the lower jaw protrudes or juts forward, causing the lower jaw and teeth to overlap the upper jaw and teeth.
Can your dentist or orthodontist fix malocclusion?
Treatment for malocclusion might include:
- Braces - Adding braces to your teeth that will gently pull them into alignment. The braces’ gentle consistent tug on your teeth reshapes the underlying bone in your tooth socket so your teeth are permanently shifted.
- Clear Aligners - These are clear plastic appliances that gradually move your teeth into alignment.
- Extraction - Removing teeth to ease overcrowding.
- Surgery - Performing surgery on your jaw to correct issues you inherited or fix jaw fractures that didn’t heal properly.
Can I prevent malocclusion?
Most malocclusion is hereditary and therefore cannot be prevented. In other cases, you can prevent malocclusion in your children by discouraging them from sucking their thumbs. You can develop malocclusion if you lose teeth. If you’ve lost teeth, consider replacing the missing teeth with dental implants or dental bridges.