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What is a Malocclusion?

A malocclusion is an incorrect relationship between the maxilla (upper arch) and the mandible (lower arch), or a general misalignment of the teeth.  Malocclusions are so common that most individuals experience one, to some degree.  The poor alignment of the teeth is thought to be a result of genetic factors combined with poor oral habits, or other factors in the early years.

Moderate malocclusion commonly requires treatment by an orthodontist.  Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in the treatment of malocclusions and other facial irregularities.

The following are three main classifications of malocclusion:

  • Class I – The occlusion is typical, but there are spacing or overcrowding problems with the other teeth.

  • Class IIThe malocclusion is an overbite (the upper teeth are positioned farther  forward than the lower teeth).  This can be caused by the protrusion of anterior teeth or the overlapping of the central teeth by the lateral teeth.

  • Class IIIPrognathism (underbite) is a malocclusion caused by the lower teeth being positioned farther  forward than the upper teeth.  An underbite usually occurs when the jawbone is large or the maxillary bone is short.

Reasons for treating a malocclusion

A severe malocclusion may lead to skeletal disharmony of the lower face.  In a more extreme case, the orthodontist may work in combination with a maxillofacial surgeon to reconstruct the jaw.  It is never too late to seek treatment for a malocclusion.  Children and adults alike have completed orthodontic realignment procedures and have been delighted with the results.

Here are some of the main reasons to seek orthodontic treatment for a malocclusion:

  • Reduced risk of tooth decayA malocclusion often causes an uneven wear pattern on the teeth called attrition and can secondarily lead to dental decay because of loss of the outer protective layer (enamel) of the tooth.  
  • Better oral hygiene – A malocclusion can be caused by overcrowding.  When too many teeth are competing for too little space, it can be difficult to clean the teeth and gums effectively.  It is much easier to clean straight teeth that are properly aligned.
  • Reduced risk of TMJ – Temporomandibular jaw syndrome (TMJ) is thought to be linked to malocclusion.  Headaches, facial pains and grinding teeth during sleep all can result from the excessive pressure to the temporomandibular joint.  Realigning the teeth can reduce pressure and alleviate these symptoms.

How is a malocclusion treated?

A malocclusion is usually treated with dental braces.  The orthodontist takes panoramic X-rays, conducts visual examinations, and takes bite impressions of the whole mouth before deciding on the best course of treatment.  If a malocclusion is obviously caused by overcrowding, the orthodontist may decide an extraction is the only way to create enough space for the realignment.  However, in the case of an underbite, crossbite or overbite, there are several different orthodontic appliances available, such as:

  • Fixed multibracket braces – This type of dental braces consists of brackets bonded to each tooth and an archwire that connects each one.  The orthodontist adjusts or changes the wire on a regular basis to move the teeth into proper alignment.
  • Removable devices – There are many non-fixed dental braces available to treat a malocclusion.  Retainers, headgear and palatal expanders are amongst the most common.  Retainers are generally used to hold the teeth in the correct position while the jawbone grows properly around them.
  • Invisalign® – These dental aligners are removable and typically invisible to the naked eye.  Invisalign® works similarly to fixed dental braces but does not impact the aesthetics of the smile as much.

If you have any questions about malocclusions, please contact our office.

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