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What is Malocclusion? Causes and Treatments

A malocclusion happens when mismatched teeth and the jaw cause a person to have a bad bite. This can result in crooked, crowded, or protruding teeth, and may even lead to gum problems/periodontal disease, severe headaches, and sleep disorders.

Most people have not heard the term malocclusion – that is, unless, they’ve had to have a misaligned jawbone corrected. But most of us know someone who has had some degree of malocclusion; perhaps a child, niece or nephew, or friend. By some estimates, roughly two out of three adult Americans are born with some degree of malocclusion.

Where Does the Term Come From? Malocclusion vs. Occlusion

The root word of “malocclusion” is “occlusion,” which just means the meeting of your teeth. It is the actual contact between the teeth in your upper jaw and those in your lower jaw.

Malocclusion happens when mismatched teeth and jaws cause a person to have a bad bite. (In fact, the term itself comes from the Latin "mal" which means "bad," and "occlusion" which means "bite.") The results of Malocclusion may be crooked, crowded, or protruding teeth, gum problems, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (commonly known as TMJ), severe headaches, and sleep disorders. It can affect a person's appearance, speech and/or ability to eat.

There are many types of malocclusion, some of which have familiar-sounding names: Overbite, underbite, crossbite, overjet, and so on.

Causes and Treatments of Malocclusion

Causes. Malocclusion is often present at birth and can manifest as space between the teeth, irregular jaw or mouth size, or even a cleft palate. It can also be acquired, however, from habits such as thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, premature loss of teeth from an accident or dental disease, or medical conditions such as enlarged tonsils and adenoids that lead to mouth breathing.

Diagnosis. Malocclusion may be symptomless or can cause pain from increased stress on the teeth or jaw. It is most often found during a routine dental examination. When malocclusion is suspected, photographs and X-rays of the face and mouth may be taken for further study. To confirm the presence and extent of malocclusion, the dentist makes plaster, plastic, or artificial stone models of the patient's teeth from impressions. These models duplicate the fit of the teeth and are very useful in treatment planning.

Treatment. Malocclusion is usually treated by an orthodontist who specializes correcting such problems. Braces are the most commonly used remedy, approximately 4 million people in the United States wearing braces at any given time, including 800,000 adults. A somewhat more contemporary solution is the application of Invisalign clear aligners, which function as braces but are much less physically bothersome and are nearly invisible.

If teeth overcrowding has created malocclusion, one or more teeth may be surgically removed. If a tooth has not yet emerged or is prematurely lost, an orthodontist may insert an appliance called a space maintainer to keep the other teeth from moving out of their natural position. In severe cases of malocclusion, surgery may be necessary, and the patient would be referred to yet another specialist, an oral or maxillofacial surgeon. Once the teeth have been moved into their new position, the braces are removed, and a retainer is worn until the teeth stabilize in that position.

“This Sounds Like an Overbite!”

An overbite is, indeed, one type of malocclusion. But there are others as well. So, “malocclusion” is the more general term. “Overbite” is one common form of malocclusion.

The term "overbite" is also sometimes confused with "overjet," which is actual a technical term. (It’s the distance between the maxillary anterior teeth and the mandibular anterior teeth in the anterior-posterior axis. We told you it’s technical!)

For Thorough and Friendly Care, Visit The Happy Tooth

Whether inherited or self-induced, it's good to be aware of how your occlusion – and that of your loved ones – lines up, so to speak. If you have any questions or concerns about occlusion, malocclusion, or overbites, feel free to contact us and talk to a professional here at the Happy Tooth.


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