Jaw Malocclusion: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
Malocclusion refers to an improper positioning of a patient’s closed jaws. A normal upper jaw will fit slightly over the lower teeth and typical molar points will fit the grooves of their opposites.
In most cases, malocclusion is a hereditary condition. It can appear as a difference in size between the upper and lower jaws or a difference in tooth size. These differences can result in overcrowding of the upper and lower teeth or abnormal bite patterns.
A diverse range of factors can affect a jaw’s shape. For example, various birth defects such as cleft lip or palate, mouth or jaw tumors, fractures to the jaw and improper fit of dental or orthodontic appliances can all contribute to malocclusion. Extra, lost or impacted teeth or even childhood habits like thumb sucking and prolonged pacifier use are other common causes.
There are three different types of malocclusion. The most common type, Class 1 malocclusion, presents as a normal bite with the upper teeth slightly overlapping the lower teeth. Class 2 malocclusion, or an overbite, occurs when the upper jaw severely overlaps the lower jaw. Class 3 malocclusion, or an underbite presents as the significant protrusion of the lower jaw; the lower jaw juts forward and overlaps the upper jaw.
To list, symptoms of malocclusion can include the altered appearance of the face, difficulty or discomfort with chewing and mouth breathing. Though rare, patients with malocclusion can also deal with speech difficulties, including lisps. Patients can also experience frequent biting of the tongue or cheeks. In all, symptoms of improper alignment of the teeth vary in severity and by a period of onset.
A dentist can typically address the prevention of malocclusion or any current teeth alignment issues during a routine exam. He or she may pull a patient’s cheek outward and ask the patient to bite down to examine the fit between the upper and lower jaws.
If the dentist notices any significant misalignment, then he or she will typically refer the patient to an orthodontist for diagnosis, further examination and treatment. A patient’s specific case may require plaster or plastic dental impressions and/or dental, facial or complete skull x-rays.
Overall, misalignment of the teeth is a treatable condition. Patients can often benefit from traditional metal braces, clear plastic aligners and retainers in addition to a variety of growth modification treatments.
However, it is important to remember that every case is different. The alignment of teeth and state of oral health is unique to each person. Your dentist or orthodontist will be able to discuss your condition and concerns with you and help you determine your ideal course of action. Specifically, the timeline of any orthodontic treatment varies widely by person.