If you’ve noticed a slight change in your smile or teeth alignment, it may be an indication that your bite has shifted. This condition is known as malocclusion and results from crooked or crowded teeth and misalignment between the lower and upper dental arches.
Severe malocclusion can cause speech problems, breathing difficulties, facial changes, bruxism, and chewing issues. A properly aligned bite allows you to clean your teeth more efficiently and helps prevent tooth decay, gingivitis, and other oral health problems.
Causes of Malocclusion
Malocclusion or shifts in the bite can occur in patients of all ages for a variety of reasons. Although you can prevent some of the resulting problems through proper oral health care and regular dental appointments, others require more advanced procedures. The most common causes of a shifting bite include:
Time: The older you grow, the tighter and smaller your lips become. This change in facial features also puts pressure on your teeth from the outside. Over time, your mouth feels crowded, and changes in dental alignment occur.
Tooth Loss: Tooth loss is one of the most common dental problems. Causes include physical trauma, decay, bone disease, gum disease, and normal wear and tear. If you lose one or more teeth, the remaining ones will shift towards the new gap and adversely affect your bite.
Periodontal Disease: Gingivitis refers to inflammation of the tissue around your teeth. When it progresses further and becomes periodontitis, it can cause gum shrinkage and bone loss, increasing the likelihood of tooth loss and misalignment.
Genetics: It’s possible to inherit malocclusion. If you have the condition, your parents, siblings, and other relatives are likely to have it as well. Genetic disorders such as cleft lip or palate also affect your bite by changing your dental structure.
Injury or Trauma: Kids, teens, and young adults are at higher risk of traumatic dental injuries which affect their bite. Examples are fractures, extrusion, subluxation, and avulsion.
TMJ and Misalignment
Misalignment of the jaw is one of the most common causes of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) and can have adverse effects on your dental health and overall quality of life. In some cases, it can also trigger shoulder and back pain and exacerbate migraines. Some dietary habits also worsen the condition. Examples include eating hard foods such as pretzels and chewing gum frequently.
A misaligned jaw affects your craniomandibular system, which includes your head, neck, and shoulders. Malocclusion can change the position of your jaw and cause symptoms whose cause might take years to pinpoint. TMJ treatment plans involve a comprehensive body and mind approach. Other than medication, it includes stress-relieving techniques, oral appliances, and surgery in extreme circumstances.
Ways to Correct Misaligned Teeth
Although maintaining good oral hygiene helps manage symptoms related to misaligned teeth, there are additional steps to follow. One of them is adopting a healthy diet that reduces the likelihood of tooth decay, gum disease, and general wear and tear. Others include:
Traditional Braces: This solution uses metal brackets attached to an archwire that gradually shifts your teeth in the desired direction. Your orthodontist replaces or adjusts your braces during scheduled dental appointments until you achieve the optimal alignment.
Clear Aligners: These alternatives to traditional braces can correct bite issues by incrementally moving your teeth, provided you wear them consistently. The clear, customized trays can treat a range of alignment problems, including crooked and crowded teeth, underbites, overbites, and crossbites.
Retainers: Retainers are an effective solution for misaligned teeth and are most often used after treatment with braces or clear aligners. Your orthodontist will instruct you on how long to wear them, depending on your particular needs. You might have to wear them full time for up to 6 months, after which you should wear them at night indefinitely.
Ways to Identify Bite Changes
Malocclusion symptoms can be mild or severe, depending on the type you have. Symptoms include:
- A change in facial appearance
- Biting your tongue or inner cheek frequently
- Pain or general discomfort when biting or chewing
- Speech difficulties including developing a lisp
A clench test is one way of determining whether you have bite issues. It involves biting down firmly and gently grinding your teeth in all directions. If you feel pain or discomfort, it means you have an uneven bite, and you should seek the assistance of a professional as soon as you can.
Ask Your Dental Professional
Although several factors may trigger bite changes, you can take preventive measures to avoid the condition. Regular dental appointments will help identify symptoms early and allow your dentist to create a suitable treatment plan. Your general dentist can discuss your options and help you find a treatment that fits your budget and lifestyle. If your particular condition requires surgery, they’ll refer you to the most competent maxillofacial surgeon.