Malocclusion: Explanation and Treatment
Occlusion is the word that dental professionals use to describe the alignment of teeth and the manner in which the upper and lower jaws fit together. In an ideal occlusion, or bite, all teeth of the upper jaw would fit just barely over those of the lower jaw. However, an occlusion is not often perfect without some form of dental work.
What is Malocclusion?
Malocclusion, which loosely translates into “bad alignment” or bad bite, is a frequently hereditary condition that consists of an abnormal bite, overcrowded teeth or otherwise uneven jaws. Often called an “underbite” or “overbite,” malocclusion has a variety of causes, including the following:
- Birth defects, including cleft lip or cleft palate
- Unusually structured jaw (usually from birth)
- Use of pacifier or bottle beyond the age of three
- Tumors in the jaw and/or the mouth
- Missing, impacted or extra teeth
- Serious injury to the teeth or jaw
- Chronic sucking of the thumb or fingers during childhood
- Braces, retainers, crowns or other dental appliances that fit improperly
Types of Malocclusion
There are three major types of malocclusion. Class I is the most common type and is hardly noticeable. In fact, the majority of people have this type of malocclusion and experience no issue with speaking or eating normally. The bite is completely normal, as the teeth of the upper jaw slightly overlap those of the lower jaw.
In Class II malocclusion, also referred to as retrognathism, is commonly known as an overbite. The upper jaw markedly overlaps the lower one, making chewing difficult.
Class III is the rarest category of malocclusion and is referred to as prognathism, or underbite. The lower jaw juts out and the bottom teeth cover the upper teeth. This often causes the patient to experience a lisp when speaking and can cause problems with eating as well.
Left untreated, moderate to severe malocclusion can lead to a wide variety of undesirable issues, including the following:
- Tooth decay due to the inability to brush teeth properly
- Cracked, chipped or worn teeth due to uneven bite
- Speech problems, particularly for children with underbite
- Sleep problems due to chronic mouth breathing
- Sores on inside of cheeks
- TMJ pain and/or headaches
- Abnormal appearance of the face
All of the above symptoms can be corrected or prevented with proper diagnosis and treatment of malocclusion.
Treatment of Malocclusion
Malocclusion may be treated by an orthodontist, though advanced cases may require further treatment. Head, skull and facial x-rays may be taken to determine the severity of the situation. A stone model of the jaw or teeth is frequently necessary as well. If surgical reshaping, also called orthognathic surgery, is required to lengthen or shorten the jaw, stabilizing screws, plates or wires may be placed. A set of wireless, clear braces, or aligners, may be used as well in order to further stabilize the teeth as the jaw continues to grow in younger patients.
While it is often easier to treat malocclusion of teeth in children than it is in older patients, it is never too late to consult your oral and maxillofacial surgeon regarding treatment. A consultation will allow him or her to determine what type of treatment plan is best for your particular case.
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