How is your bite? If "occlusion" defines the contact between the upper and lower teeth when you bite down, "malocclusion" defines a misalignment of the teeth and the jaw when you bite. Simply stated, a malocclusion describes a bad bite.
There are two main types of malocclusions. An overbite is when the upper jaw protrudes too far over the lower jaw and teeth. An under bite is when the lower jaw and teeth protrude out beyond the upper teeth.
After an initial assessment by a general dentist, patients with bad bites are usually referred to an orthodontist for further evaluation. An orthodontist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of malocclusions.
Causes of a Bad Bite
Some dental malocclusions are an inherited trait, especially crooked teeth, overbites and under bites. Beyond heredity, there are many causes of a bad bite. Some of the most common causes of a bad bite include:
- Crooked, misaligned teeth
- Gingivitis or gum problems, including receding gum lines
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
- Jaw muscle problems, including muscle spasms
- Lose, worn or broken teeth, fillings, crowns and/or dental bridges
- A misaligned jaw after a traumatic injury
- Prolonged thumb sucking, pacifier use or bottle use, especially beyond age 3 years
Complications of a Bad Bite
A malocclusion or bad bite can cause a variety of concerning physical symptoms including:
- Improper chewing mechanism
- Uneven tooth wear
- Tooth sensitivity
- Speech difficulties
- Chronic headache or migraines
- Eye pain
- Sinus pain
- Neck, head, shoulder or back pain
- Sleep disorders, including snoring and sleep apnea
An orthodontist will take dental x-rays, including a panoramic x-ray, which shows the connection between the teeth, jaw and head. Dental impressions will be taken to create a 3-D model of the teeth. If there is a concern about the TMJ, a computed tomography scan (CT) will be done.
It is important to correct a bad bite. There are many viable treatment options based upon each individual case. A qualified orthodontist will recommend the best treatment choice, among which are the following options:
- Reshaping or restoring damaged teeth, crowns, veneers or bonding through traditional corrective dental procedures
- Orthodontic treatment with a removable retainer
- Orthodontic treatment with traditional fixed braces for an average of one to three years
- Dental extraction of one or more teeth is sometimes necessary to correct crowded mouth conditions
- Mouth guard to treat dental clenching, especially at night
- Tooth replacement, if indicated
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS treatments to release tense jaw muscles
- Jaw surgery to correct a malocclusion is done in extreme cases after less invasive treatments have been unsuccessful
Correcting a bad bite is important on many levels. Not only does correcting the problem prevent further dental deterioration and other potential oral health issues, it also enhances the smile and self-esteem of the patient.