Malocclusion is a problem affecting the alignment of the teeth and can lead to serious dental health problems. If the teeth are misaligned, they won’t be able to perform vital functions. This can affect overall oral and digestive health.
Malocclusion of the teeth is also known as:
- Crowded teeth
- Open bite
The above refer to misalignment of the teeth caused by overcrowding or spacing issues. In correct occlusion, teeth should fit easily into the mouth, without any teeth rotated or twisted. Teeth within the upper jaw should slightly overlap teeth on the lower jaw so that the pointed ridges of the upper and lower molars fit into each other.
The types of malocclusion vary but any type can cause issues. Incorrect occlusion of the upper teeth may cause the lips and cheeks to be bitten whereas the misalignment of the lower teeth can cause biting of the tongue. This can cause soft and hard tissue damage. Malocclusion also has an impact on physical appearance, leading many patients to be treated for aesthetic reasons.
Malocclusion is a common condition which is sometimes not serious enough to need treatment. Orthodontic treatment statistics suggest that malocclusion which does warrant treatment affects approximately 30% of the population. It is thought that the relatively high number of people affected by malocclusion could be linked to our ancestors. Their much larger jaws allowed more space for the correct spacing and positioning of teeth. Over time, due to genetic and dietary changes, the human jaw has shrunk so that teeth have less space and the jaw can be overcrowded.
In severe cases of malocclusion, orthodontic treatment or surgery may be needed to correct the problem. Surgery is more common when skeletal disharmony of the face is coupled with malocclusion, meaning inappropriate relation between the upper and lower jaws. In such cases, surgery can be carried out to address speech or mastication problems.
Malocclusion of the teeth is often an inherited condition, passed from one generation to the next. However, there are some habits or conditions which can affect the shape of the teeth and jaw. These include birth defects such as cleft lip and palate as well as behaviours in early childhood such as thumb-sucking and prolonged use of a bottle or dummy.
The shape and structure of the jaw can also be affected by injuries or tumours in the mouth and jaw. Impacted or abnormally shaped teeth can also cause malocclusion, as can obstruction to the airways caused by allergies or enlarged adenoids. Improperly fitted braces, crowns or fillings may also cause problems.
Routine dental examinations can usually diagnose malocclusion. If a patient with malocclusion needs treatment, a dentist will typically refer them to a registered, specialist orthodontist such as Jonathan Alexander-Abt. The various treatment options may include the use of braces to reposition the teeth; removal of teeth to treat overcrowding; capping, bonding or reshaping of teeth; surgery to stabilise or shorten the jaw; and plates or wires to stabilise the jaw bone.
Treatment for malocclusion has a good prognosis and is generally sufficient to correct the problem. Early intervention during childhood may shorten the duration of treatment but results in adulthood are usually good. The earlier malocclusion is treated, the more successful the outcome.