Malocclusion: What You Need to Know About Proper Tooth Alignment
Much has been said about the allure of a winning smile. As such, most people would go to such lengths to acquire it, including turning to orthodontics or braces to get more attractive teeth. However, did you know that not everyone who wears braces is doing so just for vanity’s sake? In fact, majority of them are actually wearing braces to correct malocclusion, a condition that afflicts many people.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, “Occlusion refers to the alignment of teeth and the way the upper and lower teeth fit together (bite). The upper teeth should fit slightly over the lower teeth. The points of the molars should fit the grooves of the opposite molar.” In cases of malocclusion or poor bite, the teeth are not aligned properly, in such a way that contradicts the norm.
Now, the mouth is designed the way it is – that is, the upper teeth should overlap with the lower teeth slightly – for a reason. The front teeth and canines enable you to cut through food, while molars enable you to chew thoroughly. The front teeth also protect you from biting your cheeks and lips, while your lower teeth do the same to your tongue. In essence, your teeth are designed for maximum functionality.
Unfortunately, malocclusion can disrupt this balance. There are several kinds of malocclusion, including cross bite, upper protrusion (overjet), misplaced midline, overbite, open bite, crowding or spacing problems, and underbite, among others. These are different variations of the condition, when the normal fit calls for the upper teeth to be slightly forward than the lower teeth.
Some cases of malocclusion are results of inborn jaw structure problems that would require surgical correction. This can refer to the difference in size between the upper and lower jaws, or between the jaw and tooth size. Having this condition can also result to abnormal bite patterns and tooth overcrowding.
Malocclusion is oftentimes diagnosed through routine dental exams. After examining your teeth, the dentist may take dental X-rays to ensure that your teeth are properly aligned. If a deviation from the norm is detected, your condition would be classified by the following:
• Class 1 – The most common kind of malocclusion, this means that while the bite is generally normal, there might be teeth crowding or spacing problems or the upper teeth might slightly overlap the lower teeth. Other kinds of malocclusion such as rotations, overlapping, and cross bites also typically fall into this category.
• Class 2 – Also referred to as an overbite or retrognathism, this means there is a severe overlap between the upper jaw and the bottom jaw. This may also mean that the lower molars are positioned towards the throat which tends to draw the chin back.
• Class 3 – Also known as underbite or prognathism, this means that the lower jaw significantly protrudes, which causes it to overlap with the upper jaw.
While not everyone has a perfect bite, most teeth alignment problems are minor and do not necessarily require treatment. However, there are cases when medical intervention is needed to prevent the misalignment from causing more problems in the first place.
If your teeth misalignment is starting to cause these problems, then it’s time to seek professional help. Here are some of the more pressing symptoms of malocclusion:
• Alternation in the appearance of the face
• Speech problems such as a lisp
• Discomfort when biting and chewing
• Frequent biting of the tongue or inner cheeks
• Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose
What’s more, the condition can also cause other problems such as gingivitis, because it would be difficult to thoroughly clean the teeth.
Thankfully, teeth misalignment is not permanent. There are several ways through which malocclusion can be corrected. They are the following:
• Tooth or teeth extraction to address overcrowding
• Using plates or wires to stabilize the jaw bone
• Using orthodontics or braces to correct the position of the teeth, particularly those that were rotated in place
• Reshaping, capping, or bonding of the teeth
• Surgery to shorten or reshape the jaw
• Using a custom-fit bite appliance to address muscle and joint issues to further relax the jaw joint and muscles
• Behavioral therapy, to train the muscles around the jaw. This is effective particularly if the malocclusion is caused by muscle strain.
Some of these treatments can have complications, such as pain or discomfort after the initial treatment. Mouth irritation can also occur in instances such as using appliances or braces, which can result to mouth sores.
Having improper alignment is not a cause for alarm, particularly if it is not causing you discomfort. However, if you are already feeling conscious of your teeth, then you can seek professional help.
It is worth pointing out however that correcting a misaligned bite is best undertaken while the patient is still young. In children, the strong pressure from mouth appliances such as braces can influence the teeth to grow into the proper position. Likewise, the direction of the teeth can be influenced as well. Therefore, the teeth alignment would take into consideration the natural growth of the child, which is helpful in plotting an effective treatment. However, when using orthodontics on adults, this flexibility is already taken away as the teeth cannot be influenced. What’s more, applying pressure on the teeth can also cause problems due to gum recession.
In line with this, when treating misalignment in adults, factors that can aggravate the situation such as gingivitis must be eliminated. Excessive teeth in cases of overcrowding must also be removed.
The bottom line, however, is that the treatment is available for everyone. This therefore means that with the help of orthodontics and the latest technologies in dental health, improper teeth alignment can be addressed at any age. The only limit is the patient’s willingness to cooperate with the treatment. The treatment may take a while, but dental experts would be able to address the problems. It is therefore important to clarify expectations and timelines before proceeding with the treatment.