HEALTH ISSUES CAN OCCUR WHEN YOUR TEETH DON’T MEET
Oral care is an important part of your overall health. The mouth is a gateway to our digestive and respiratory systems and impacts our overall health, but there’s more to having oral health than healthy gums and teeth. Proper function is also important, including how your teeth come together. A bad bite (malocclusion) — when your upper and lower teeth don’t fit together correctly — can cause problems ranging from loose fillings and chipped, broken, or worn-down teeth to headaches and toothaches.
Treatment for malocclusion includes traditional braces and clear aligners such as Invisalign, tooth removal to ease overcrowding, and in some cases, jaw surgery. People with a missing tooth may be advised to get a dental implant or bridge to help even the bite and keep the teeth from moving out of alignment.
LINKED TO A PAINFUL JOINT DISORDER
Did you know misaligned teeth may also affect the temporomandibular joints (TMJs)? Connecting the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull on each side of your head just below the ear, your jaw joints act like sliding hinges. They enable you to open and close your mouth, move it side-to-side, and talk, laugh, yawn, and chew.
Muscles that control the TMJ must work harder when teeth aren’t aligned properly, and this overuse often results in pain and inflammation of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles and tissues. Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can also result from missing or worn-down teeth and ill-fitting crowns that affect the bite, jaw injuries, and arthritis. Then there’s that old bugaboo stress, which can cause you to clench your jaw throughout the day and grind your teeth while asleep (called bruxism), putting excess pressure on the jaw joints.
Symptoms include your jaw clicking when you open and close your mouth wide, headaches, unexplained earaches, jaw lock, tooth loss, and dizziness, to name a few.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT ARE ESSENTIAL
Mild TMD can be uncomfortable. Sometimes the pain will radiate from the jaw to behind the eyes, the face, neck, ears, head, and even the shoulders, becoming so acute it profoundly impacts your quality of life.
Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as naproxen or ibuprofen helps relieve the pain and inflammation. Muscle relaxants may also be prescribed. A cold pack applied to the affected areas can be beneficial, and jaw-stretching exercises and neck massages may help alleviate the discomfort.
A removable, custom-made TMJ oral appliance or splint, similar to a mouth guard, may also be recommended. Customarily worn at night, these devices help reduce pressure on the TMJs by preventing the teeth from grinding and clenching. In extreme cases, surgery is used to address TMD.
Since TMD mimics a host of different medical problems, it’s often misdiagnosed. If you believe you may suffer from TMD, see a dental professional experienced in diagnosing and treating the condition.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, teeth crowding and protrusion, too much space between the teeth, and malocclusion cause a variety of dental problems when left untreated. Bite misalignment includes:
Crossbite – When the upper teeth fit inside the lower teeth. It can involve groups of teeth or a single tooth. Untreated, the jaw may shift to one side, lopsided jaw growth, and worn-down tooth enamel.
Underbite – When the lower jaw sits in front of the upper jaw, it can cause chewing problems and result in wear and tear on the front teeth, making them prone to breakage and chipping.
Open bite – An anterior open bite is when the back teeth are together, and the upper and lower front teeth do not overlap. Causes include excessive sucking, tongue thrusting, or mouth breathing. A posterior open bite is when the back teeth don’t meet, but the front teeth do. Untreated, it may result in swallowing and speech problems.
Deep bite – When the top front teeth excessively overlap over the bottom teeth, TMJ issues, tooth loss, gum disease due to bruxism, and more can occur.