When teeth don’t fit together properly, it’s called a bad bite or malocclusion. But where does it come from and how can it be remedied?
How Do I Know If I Have A Bad Bite?
Ideally, the teeth of your upper jaw will overlap the teeth in your lower jaw just a little. If the upper jaw extends beyond what is considered normal, it is an overbite. If the lower teeth extend over the upper teeth, it is an under bite. These are the two most common forms of malocclusion.
Other forms include a cross bite where some upper teeth fit inside the lower teeth, an open bite where teeth that should be in contact with each other do not touch properly, or a deep bite where the upper teeth cover too much of the lower teeth.
Malocclusion can also stem from too many teeth. Teeth may be too large or the jaw too small, In either case, there simply isn’t enough room and teeth may rotate or overlap each other.
The opposite can also happen when there is too much space in between teeth due to a large jaw or small or missing teeth.
Where Did My Bad Bite Come From?
Most malocclusion is inherited, or in other words, you were born with it. There are other factors and habits, however, that can change the structure of the jaw and lead to a poor bite. These include:
Accident or injury that misaligns the jaw. Overuse of a pacifier or bottle feeding in young children. Prolonged thumb sucking in young children or tongue thrusting.
Symptoms of malocclusion
For most people, a malocclusion will be obvious. Simply looking in a mirror will reveal that your teeth don’t fit together properly or that they are damaged. You may also feel that your bite is “off” when you are chewing food.
Other symptoms of a malocclusion are more subtle. Since they may stem from conditions that do not include a malocclusion, it is important to have a trained eye to arrive at a correct diagnosis These include:
Headaches, clicking and popping of the jaw joint, stiffness or soreness in the jaw joint, teeth grinding or jaw clenching at night or during the day or pain upon chewing or biting
How Is a Malocclusion Corrected?
Braces are the standard treatment for malocclusion in both children and adults. Brackets are cemented to the teeth and then a wire guided through and attached. During regular orthodontic visits, the wire is tightened. This gradually moves the teeth into alignment.
Tooth Removal Or Replacement
When the misalignment is caused by too many teeth, some teeth can be removed. In a child, this will be the baby teeth. In adults, removing a permanent tooth is, well, permanent and usually reserved only for severe overbites.
A tooth damaged from an incorrect bite can be cosmetically repaired or a tooth can be added when too much space is the cause of the malocclusion.
In the case of a mild misalignment, a dentist may reshape certain teeth and/or apply veneers.
A veneer is a thin tooth-colored shell that is cemented to the front of a tooth. Veneers cannot correct misaligned teeth and/or jaw, but they can be used to improve the appearance by covering up a broken tooth.
What If the Misalignment Is More Severe?
A severe misalignment will most likely involve the skeletal structure and alignment of the bones making up the mouth and jaw. Severe malocclusion can cause problems with speaking, eating, breathing and sleeping. It may also alter the appearance of the face. Treatments include:
These are used when the misalignment is too great for standard braces to achieve realignment. There are two types. Retraction headgear braces work to move the upper jaw back, thus correcting a severe under bite. Protraction headgear braces do just the opposite. They pull the lower jaw forward and are used to correct a severe overbite.
Reverse Pull Face Mask
This also corrects an under bite. It is similar in looks to the headgear braces but the metal braces are cemented to the upper back teeth. These braces then attach to the face mask that wraps around the face and pulls the upper jaw back into alignment. It is generally worn at night.
Upper Jaw Expander
This is used to correct a more severe under bite. It consists of a wire frame device that fits across the upper palate. The expander is turned a little each night using a special key, thus widening the upper jaw and eventually correcting the misalignment.
Typically, braces or other treatment is performed first to bring the teeth and jaw into the greatest alignment possible.
The second part is performed by a maxillofacial surgeon. Depending on the misalignment, the surgeon will use a combination of metal plates, wires and screws to reposition and reshape the jaw. This is usually performed only in extreme cases where the misalignment affects every day functions such as eating, sleeping or speaking.
Dental Hygiene During Treatment
There’s no way around it. Brushing and flossing during treatment for malocclusion is going to require additional time and effort. With the increase of surface area where food can hide and decay, brushing and flossing is more important than ever. Water flossers or dental floss threaders aid in flossing. Individual floss strands with the ends hardened also make getting under and around mouth hardware simpler. Brushing with a soft toothbrush at a 45-degree angle in small circular motions is optimum for getting the bristles under the wire to dislodge any food. Start at the top of the tooth and then reverse the angle and brush the bottom of the tooth. Repeat this procedure for the bottom teeth.
Ideally, malocclusion is treated when a child or teen as the jaw and teeth are still forming and growing. But favorable outcomes occur at any age. Since the bone structure in an adult is more dense, treatment may take a little longer but a well-aligned jaw is within reach of everyone.