In dentistry, the word malocclusion refers to the misalignment of teeth. Each tooth has a distinct position that it occupies in the mouth. One gets a full set of aligned teeth when each tooth is able to occupy its position and is not pushed too far from where it naturally belongs.
Not everyone has a completely aligned set of teeth. It is very common for teeth to get pushed away from their position and result in misalignment. This also brings along with it other dental concerns.
Malocclusion does not affect only the position, it also affects the functioning of the teeth. As the teeth are slightly moved from their position, they are not able to do their job properly. This will affect the chewing function as well as speech patterns. The general health of the person is affected indirectly when the body is not able to get proper nourishment due to disturbed chewing function. In addition to these problems, the self-confidence of a person is also affected due to malocclusion.
Signs of malocclusion
Signs of malocclusion are something that can be noticed earlier on which will help seek treatment at an earlier stage. Parents can watch out for these symptoms in their children and get expert dental help.
The visual sign is obviously how well the teeth seem to be aligned. The misalignment can be slight or severe.
Biting the inside of the cheeks is another symptom that can be easily noticed. Biting occurs quite frequently among those who have malocclusion and not occasionally as seen in others.
As the tooth alignment is affected, the shape of the face can be seen as altered. This is because the shape of the teeth is influenced by the tooth alignment and the jawline. When they are misaligned due to the position of the teeth, this is seen in the change of the shape of the face. The type of ‘bite issues’ that a person has also affects how the shape of the face is changed as in sunken cheeks, more aged look etc.
Teeth and their positions affect the speech patterns of a person. Words can be spoken with clarity only if the alignment of teeth is not impaired. When there is malocclusion, this speech pattern will be affected. There will be less clarity when a person speaks and there are chances of lisp and also difficulty in pronouncing certain letters which result in distortion while speaking. It is not only speech that is affected, some have difficulty in breathing properly through the nose and they breathe through the mouth which in turn can bring in other dental issues.
Causes of malocclusion
How the teeth in the upper jaw and the lower jaw fit, and the general alignment of the teeth are two important parameters of malocclusion.
In a perfect situation, the upper jaw covers the lower jaw slightly and both the lips cover the teeth and offer protection. But in malocclusion, there are different ways in which this is not possible.
Heredity is one of the reasons this occurs, it is seen as passed in families from one generation to another. There are common childhood habits like thumb sucking, and prolonged use of pacifiers that can cause this situation. With continued use, the teeth structure which is developing will slowly be pushed to a slightly different position.
Some have the issue of ‘extra teeth’ or misshaped teeth. Due to these extra teeth, the teeth compete with each other to occupy space in the mouth and this will lead to misalignment. The teeth will shift in their position to accommodate extra teeth. The misalignment also is seen as a fallout of dental procedures done – ill-fitting dental appliances cause this issue as well. Severe injury to the mouth and also other serious diseases like tumours to the mouth or jaw can alter the structure of the teeth and jaws and cause misalignment.
This dental issue is treated based on the severity. Many do not have serious malocclusion problems but simple alignment issues which can be corrected easily. The treatment pattern usually follows a set direction in which there are phases in treatment. Each phase is completed and then it moves to the next phase.
After diagnosis, if the issue is not severe, the dentist will recommend wearing braces to correct the misalignment. Traditional braces are used by many to correct teeth alignment.
Now there are different types of braces that can be chosen based on preference and need. Wearing braces and slowly applying pressure to the teeth will move them to the desired position. This corrects the misalignment. Teeth aligners are also used to move teeth to their desired position.
If there is overcrowding of teeth, then the dentist will suggest teeth extraction as a phase in treatment. The ‘extra’ teeth will be removed so that the other teeth have ample space to occupy. If the condition is severe, then maybe the above simple procedures are not enough. Surgery is suggested in a situation where the alignment of the jaws and facial features are genetic. Jaw re-construction is also recommended to those who need to have it corrected.
Treatment modalities and the process is done after discussion with the dentist. It is important that procedures that mentioned by the dentist is followed properly after each phase of the treatment. This involves taking care of the braces, following food habits that support wearing braces and also following good personal hygiene practices. If this is not done, then dental decay can result.
As some malocclusion issues are a result of habits in childhood, parents can take care and make sure there is no habit formation in children of thumb sucking or using pacifiers. Going for regular dental consultations especially when children are young, will help to attend to this issue at an early stage.