Unless you are in the habit of hanging out with orthodontists, malocclusion probably isn’t a word you will hear very often. It is the fancier, more official way of describing the misalignment of the teeth and bite, something we see and correct for our patients on a regular basis here at Seabreeze Orthodontics. Malocclusions happen when mismatched teeth and jaws cause a person to have a bad bite, and they can result in crooked, crowded, or protruding teeth, gum problems, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), and even severe headaches and sleep disorders. They can also affect a person’s appearance, speech, and ability to eat.
There are several different types of malocclusions, from crooked teeth to overbites. Some may be symptomless, while others can be inconvenient and bothersome. To help you identify a suspected malocclusion in yourself or your child, take a look below at the most common types we see, the symptoms they can cause, and what we can do to treat them.
The three main classes of malocclusions
Class 1: The most common type of malocclusion, this class is characterized by the upper teeth slightly overlapping the lower ones in an otherwise normal bite.
Class 2: This type of malocclusion consists of an overbite, where the upper jaw and the upper teeth overlap the lower jaw and teeth abnormally.
Class 3: Patients with this class of malocclusion consists will have an underbite, which occurs when the lower jaw and lower teeth overlap the upper jaw and the upper teeth.
The different types of malocclusion
As mentioned above, there are several different types of malocclusion. Below are some of the most common situations we see and treat.
Overcrowding is a very common orthodontic condition and is the most common reason for adults seeking orthodontic treatment. Overcrowding is often due to a lack of space, resulting in teeth that are crooked and overlap.
Spacing issues can occur between two or more teeth. Some of the causes for this malocclusion can include missing teeth, small teeth, tongue thrusting, and thumb sucking. When 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. When the upper and lower front teeth do not overlap each other, 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 the problem can also occur on the sides of the mouth.
Not to be confused with an overbite, an overjet causes the top teeth to extend past the bottom teeth horizontally. This protrusion can interfere with chewing food and speaking properly.
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)
When 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.
This is another term for the space that exists between two adjacent teeth, usually the front two teeth.
An impacted tooth is unable to erupt through the gum naturally. Treatment includes extraction or exposing it so a brace can be fitted to the surface.
Also known as hypodontia, this condition can occur as a result of trauma or from something as simple as the improper development of the teeth.
Common causes of malocclusions
Most malocclusions are inherited conditions, but they can also occur due to certain conditions or habits that 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
- 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
- the airway that is obstructed by enlarged adenoids or allergies
Symptoms of malocclusions
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 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 facial structure
Even if no symptoms are present, your regular dentist should be checking for malocclusions during check-ups, particularly in children. If the teeth appear to be misaligned or the jaw seems distorted, you may be referred to an orthodontist like Dr. Faja-Fernandez, who will then examine the teeth and mouth, take x-rays of the teeth and face, and go over your past medical history to identify any existing health problems.
Regular dental visits help in the identification of dental problems early on so that treatment can be initiated before issues become more serious. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends every child have their first orthodontic evaluation by around the age of seven for this reason. Dental check-ups should commence by a baby’s first birthday.
Some cases of malocclusion are so minor that corrective treatment is never necessary. However, when there is a moderate to severe malocclusion in any class, corrective treatment with orthodontics will often be your best course of action. This can 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.
The benefits of having a malocclusion treated extend beyond achieving a proper bite and a beautifully aligned smile. Treatment can make the teeth easier to brush and floss, which reduce the risk of cavities and tooth decay and improve oral health overall. It can also limit any strain placed on the teeth and jaw, reducing the potential of broken or chipped teeth, and issues with the TMJ.
Get the smile you deserve with Seabreeze Orthodontics
Whether you have a child ready for their first orthodontic exam or suspect you have a malocclusion yourself, we would love to take a look to make sure everything is lining up as it should with your smile. Your initial consultation is free, and at the end of it, Dr. Faja-Fernandez will let you know of any orthodontic issues he finds and can create a custom treatment plan for you based on your specific diagnosis and goals. Our team is dedicated to making each patient feel welcome from the moment you walk in the door and work hard to provide only the best orthodontic experience for you from start to finish!
If you are in Myrtle Beach or the surrounding area and want to learn more about malocclusions or how orthodontic treatment could benefit you or your family, get in touch with us today to schedule your free consultation. There is never been a better time to take the first step towards the best smile of your life!