Malocclusion is kind of a funny word and one that you probably aren’t familiar with unless you’re in the habit of hanging around a bunch of orthodontists! It’s the technical term for a misalignment of the teeth and bite, and it’s something that we see and correct on a daily basis here at Shaw Orthodontics. Malocclusions happen when mismatched teeth and jaws cause a person to have a bad bite. If left untreated, they can result in a whole laundry list of oral issues, including things like:
- crooked teeth
- crowded teeth
- protruding teeth
- gum problems
- temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)
- sleep disorders
- cosmetic appearance
- difficulties with eating or chewing
There are several different types of malocclusions, and while some may be symptomless, others can be inconvenient and even painful. If you suspect a malocclusion in yourself or your child, take a look below at the most common types, the symptoms they can cause, and what Shaw Orthodontics can do to treat them.
The three main classes of malocclusions
Class 1: This is the most common type of malocclusion, and is characterized by the upper teeth slightly overlapping the lower ones in an otherwise normal bite.
Class 2: This malocclusion consists of an overbite, where the upper jaw and the upper teeth overlap the lower jaw and teeth abnormally.
Class 3: This class of malocclusion consists of an underbite, which occurs when the lower jaw and lower teeth overlap the upper jaw and the upper teeth.
The different types of malocclusion
Overcrowding is one of the most common orthodontic conditions and is the biggest reason we see adults seeking orthodontic treatment. Overcrowding is often due to a lack of space, which can result in teeth that are crooked and overlap.
Spacing issues can occur between two or more teeth. Some of the most common causes for this malocclusion are missing teeth, small teeth, tongue thrusting, and thumb sucking. If there is too much space or too little space for the teeth, it can result in crowding, which can impact the eruption of the permanent teeth.
With an open bite, the front teeth do not overlap the lower teeth. If it’s the upper and lower front teeth that don’t overlap, it results in an opening that leads straight into the mouth. An open bite that affects the front teeth is known as an anterior open bite, but this problem can also occur on the sides of the mouth.
An overjet causes the top teeth to extend past the bottom teeth horizontally. This protrusion can interfere with chewing food and speaking properly.
It’s perfectly normal to have some overlap of the lower front teeth is normal, but an increased overbite can cause your front teeth to bite down onto your gums, or your lower front teeth to bite into the roof of your mouth.
Underbite (or anterior crossbite)
If the lower front teeth are positioned much further forward than the upper front teeth, it results in an underbite, which is also known as an anterior crossbite.
A crossbite occurs when your upper teeth bite inside your lower teeth. This can happen on one or both sides of your jaw and can affect your front or back teeth.
Also known as “gap teeth”, this is another term for the space that exists between two adjacent teeth, usually the front two teeth.
An impacted tooth is one that is unable to erupt through the gum naturally. Treatment can include extraction or exposing it so a brace can be fitted to the surface.
Sometimes referred to as hypodontia, this condition can occur as a result of trauma or from something as simple as the improper development of the teeth.
The most common causes of malocclusions
Although most malocclusions are the result of inherited conditions, they can also occur due to certain conditions or habits. If these conditions or habits are allowed to continue without treatment, they can lead to changes in the shape and structure of the jaw. One example is the teeth having too much or too little room to erupt, which results in them drifting out of place over time. Some other common causes of malocclusion include:
- tooth loss
- prolonged use of a pacifier
- prolonged thumb or finger sucking
- cleft lip and palate
- injuries and trauma
- tumors in the mouth or jaw
- bottle feeding
- impacted tooth
- lack of oral care
- an airway that is obstructed by enlarged adenoids or allergies
Some symptoms of malocclusions
As we’ve mentioned above, the symptoms associated with malocclusions can be nonexistent, mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the type of malocclusion present. Some of the more common symptoms patients experience can include:
- misaligned teeth
- discomfort with biting or chewing food
- speech problems
- difficulty breathing through the mouth
- frequent biting of the tongue or cheeks
- changes in the overall structure of the face
Your regular dentist should be checking for malocclusions during check-ups, particularly in children, so even symptomless malocclusions can be caught with the proper dental care. If the teeth appear to be misaligned or the jaw seems distorted, you may be referred to an orthodontist like Dr. Shaw, who will examine the teeth and mouth, take x-rays of the teeth and face, and go over your past medical history to identify any existing oral issues.
In the same way that regular dental visits can help identify dental problems before they become more serious, early and regular orthodontic evaluations can help find potential orthodontic issues so that treatment can be initiated before problems become more severe and require more intensive treatment. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that every child have their first orthodontic evaluation by around the age of seven for this reason. Dental check-ups should commence around the time of a baby’s first birthday.
It may not always be necessary to initiate corrective treatment for a malocclusion, particularly if they are minor enough that no symptoms exist. However, when there is a moderate to severe malocclusion in any class, corrective treatment with orthodontics will often be the best course of action to ensure an aligned smile that is also fully functional. This treatment may include removing teeth, putting on braces or customizing aligners, using retainers or oral splints, or surgery. Surgery is generally seen as a last resort option when it comes to treatment, but braces, tooth extraction, and retainers or oral splints may be administered alone or simultaneously, depending on the particulars of the case and the desired outcome.
Successfully treating a troublesome malocclusion has many benefits that extend beyond achieving a proper bite and attractive smile. Teeth will often be easier to brush and floss, reducing the risk of cavities and tooth decay, and improving oral health overall. It can also limit any strain placed on the teeth and jaw, which lowers the potential of ending up with broken or chipped teeth. Many patients find their TMJ is eased or eliminated.
Make malocclusion a thing of the past with Shaw Orthodontics
If you have a child who is the right age for their first orthodontic exam or suspect you may have a malocclusion yourself, our team would love to take a look and make sure everything is lining up as it should! Dr. Shaw and the rest of our skilled staff are dedicated to providing high-quality, individualized, affordable orthodontic care for families in the Rockwall, Watauga, and surrounding communities. We work hard to provide only the best orthodontic experience for you and your family from start to finish, so get in touch with us today to schedule a consultation. This is the perfect time to take the first steps toward a beautiful, healthy smile!