Can You Fix Your Bite Problems With Braces?
Improving the Appearance and Health of Your Smile With Orthodontics
Did you know that the way your bite fits together can have a huge impact on not only the appearance but also the function and health of your teeth and gums? We don’t think about it often, but it’s true! Resolving malocclusion is in many ways just as important for your long-term oral health as sticking to a great at-home oral hygiene routine. It’s one reason dentists and orthodontists emphasize the importance of orthodontic evaluations for everyone.
If you’re just beginning to learn more about orthodontics, however, you might find yourself full of questions. You may wonder what malocclusion is, how it can impact you, if it’s that important to fix, and whether braces are the solution. We understand tracking down up-to-date information isn’t always the easiest job out there, so to make it easier for you, we’ve put together a guide on different types of malocclusion and how to fix your bite alignment.
What is malocclusion, and what types are there?
Malocclusion might be a strange word, but its definition is pretty simple. It’s an umbrella term for any problem with the alignment of your bite, or the way your jaws and teeth fit together. In addition to issues like individual crooked teeth, there are several malocclusion types, including:
- Overcrowding: when there isn’t enough space in your mouth for permanent teeth, causing them to overlap
- Gaps: areas of excess space between your teeth
- Overbite: when the upper front teeth stick out too far past the lower front teeth, forming a sort of overhang
- Underbite: when the bottom front teeth stick out past the upper front teeth, causing the lower jaw to jut forward
- Open bite: a severe gap between your upper and lower front teeth where they are physically incapable of touching when you close your mouth
- Crossbite: when the jaw’s resting position leaves some of your upper teeth tucked behind your lower teeth.
- Overjet: where the upper teeth are angled outward at more of a horizontal angle than they should be, causing them to stick out past the lower teeth
The most common malocclusions are separated into classes that indicate each type and severity. Class 1 is the mildest and most common, consisting of overcrowded or spaced-out teeth, class 2 indicates a severe overbite, and class 3 is a severe underbite.
What causes malocclusion?
One major cause of malocclusion is out of your control: genetics. If one or both of your parents had a misaligned bite, you’re likely to have one too. Genetics also determines the size of your jaw, which impacts whether you’ll experience issues like overcrowding or gaps. Malocclusion has a wide range of other potential causes that can vary between the different types.
Some of the issues that can lead to malocclusion include dental injuries, decay, genetics, extra teeth, and improperly fitted dental restorations. Here are some other causes:
Using a pacifier or sucking your thumb as a child is natural, but keeping the habit too long is a major cause of malocclusion because it impacts the way baby teeth erupt, affecting permanent tooth eruption as well. As a result, the ADA generally recommends that parents encourage children to drop these habits naturally between the ages of 2and 4years old and actively discourage it if it’s still present after the child turns 4.
An obstructed airway caused by issues like allergies, a defect that blocks the nasal passages, or enlarged adenoids or tonsils can lead to mouth breathing. This sounds like a minor issue, but it can impact the development of a child’s jaws and facial muscles, leading to malocclusions like overjet and open bites.
Tongue Thrusting and Oral Posture
These types of malocclusions can also be caused or worsened by issues like tongue thrusting and poor oral posture. Tongue thrusting is when you swallow by pushing your tongue against your teeth instead of against the roof of your mouth. Similarly, poor oral posture is when your tongue rests by pressing against your teeth instead of the roof of your mouth. These habits exert frequent or constant pressure on your teeth, which causes them to shift in the direction of that force over time.
Thankfully, tongue thrusting and oral posture can be adjusted with simple exercises called myofunctional therapy. These exercises are applied alongside orthodontics to prevent the habits from causing further issues with your bite.
What are the symptoms that your bite might be misaligned?
Each type of malocclusion can vary in severity, so you may hardly notice your overbite, or it could impact your life daily in very real ways. For most people, malocclusion’s impact falls somewhere in between. Common symptoms of malocclusion include:
- Difficulty chewing
- Digestive issues
- Difficulty brushing and flossing
- Frequent headaches
- Teeth grinding or clenching
- Jaw pain
- Abnormal or uneven tooth wear
- Biting the cheek when chewing
- Impacted teeth
- Crooked or overlapping teeth
- Mouth breathing
- Obstructed airway
- Speech problems
You likely won’t experience all of these symptoms at once, and everyone’s symptoms vary based on the type and severity of their case. In addition to physical symptoms, the appearance of a misaligned bite and the way it impacts your speech can lead to self-consciousness. Thankfully, this list of symptoms does have a happy ending—they don’t have to impact you forever!
Orthodontic treatment aligns your bite and straightens your teeth, resolving malocclusion and its symptoms. The result is a healthier, more beautiful smile that allows you to feel more confident. Even for people who don’t have noticeable symptoms like jaw pain or difficulty chewing, gaining this increased self-confidence often makes orthodontics worthwhile!
When should you get braces?
The ideal time to get braces is sometime in your early teenage years, usually around 14, when your adult teeth have all erupted but your face and jaws are still growing. Some orthodontic treatments are even given to young children if X-rays show dentists that they’ll suffer from an issue like overcrowding. This is why orthodontists and dentists recommend that children receive their first orthodontic evaluation at around 7 years old—at this age, they can predict future orthodontic issues and perform early intervention if necessary. Most kids don’t need early orthodontic treatment, but those who do benefit from it tremendously. Either way, knowing what orthodontic challenges a child is likely to face can be incredibly helpful for future treatments.
While braces are most common for young teenagers, you can benefit from braces at any age! So if you’re interested in getting braces and wondering when you should take that first step, the answer is that you can get them at any time as long as your teeth and gums are healthy! If you’re experiencing symptoms from malocclusion or are struggling to feel confident in your smile, now is the time to schedule an orthodontic evaluation.
How do you know if you should consider other types of treatment?
The best way to know if you should consider orthodontic treatments besides braces is to discuss this concern with your dentist or orthodontist. They can tell you all your options based on your unique treatment needs and personal preferences.
Clear aligners are another treatment option for many people because they can address nearly all of the issues braces can. There are severe malocclusions that are best treated by braces, but clear aligners can treat most types of malocclusions just as well. Nowadays, clear aligners usually cost about the same as braces and are often at least partially covered by dental insurance, so your budget may also let you choose. Because of this, many people’s treatment choices come down to personal preference. Do you like the flexibility and discreet nature of clear aligners, or the fixed nature of traditional braces?
If you’re considering orthodontic treatment for your child, you may also want to consider how responsible they are. Clear aligners require regular care and can be lost, so your child needs to show a certain level of responsibility for aligners to be a good fit. Additionally, scheduling an early orthodontic consultation will also impact what treatments will be available to your child. For example, treatments like palate expanders can help prevent or lessen overcrowding before it becomes an issue.
Children who receive early orthodontic treatment will still likely need some form of treatment when they reach their teens, but it will be shorter and milder than it would have been otherwise. It may even save your child from needing procedures like tooth extractions to make room in an overcrowded mouth.
Malocclusion doesn’t have to be permanent.
Malocclusion can cause a wide range of symptoms, but with the right treatment, they’re far from permanent. No matter your age, orthodontics can transform the long-term function, health, and appearance of your smile—sometimes improving it in ways you didn’t even realize were a problem! Whether it’s you or your child who needs orthodontic treatment, your dentist is here to help guide you through these decisions. If you’d like to learn more, don’t hesitate to schedule an evaluation and ask all of your questions!