Most people need orthodontics to treat a misaligned bite (malocclusion). Any orthodontist will tell you that their more important job is actually aligning the bite rather than straightening the teeth. Bite problems can cause a person to clench or grind their teeth, leading to too much wear over time. A bad bite can also create chewing or even talking problems.
Malocclusions can be genetic, meaning you likely inherited your misalignment from a parent or grandparent. Corrective orthodontics is about much more than cosmetic appearance. Making sure you are not wearing away your tooth enamel, or fixing a speech or chewing problem are important functional issues that orthodontists address every day.
When a person has an overbite, the upper teeth protrude out in front of the lower jaw. A normal gap is about two millimeters, but with a malocclusion, the gap can range from as little as three millimeters to as large as 10 millimeters (referred to as a deep overbite). When a person has an overbite, the chin appears pushed back and the upper jaw appears to jut forward. The overbite makes the face appear round and short, and most people with a deep overbite have jaw pain, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and even headaches. These patients also tend to clench and grind their teeth.
An underbite occurs when the lower jaw extends forward, appearing in front of the upper jaw, giving the appearance that the person is sticking out their chin and lower teeth. Orthodontists use the technical term “mandibular prognathism” to describe an underbite. If an underbite is really severe, it can greatly distort both the shape and the appearance of the face, and can even affect the person’s speech. People tend to have some degree of TMJ issue with an underbite.
A crossbite is another bite malocclusion that tends to be genetic and therefore inherited. Children are born with a narrow upper jaw that then causes teeth to be misaligned with the lower jaw. Upper teeth can also be very crowded as the permanent teeth come in.
Crossbites can cause pain that radiates in the teeth and jaw. Sometimes people with crossbites find that chewing is very painful. A crossbite is a huge grind—literally—on your teeth, which will wear down much more quickly, and your risk of losing teeth increases as well. In severe cases of crossbite, people can develop arthritis or otherwise severe damage in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) due to the constant abnormal stresses placed on the joint.
There are a number of ways an orthodontist can treat TMJ. Orthodontists will always use the least invasive method to correct these classes of malocclusions. If you suspect you have TMJ, your first step is to visit a dentist or orthodontist.
Braces are sometimes used to correct TMJ, but braces are usually recommended to correct the bite, and in doing so, the patient finds that TMJ goes away once the bite is corrected.
An orthodontist might use a splint, which is similar to a mouthguard to help with the TMJ. In more severe cases, surgery might be required, but is a last resort after all other treatments have been tried.
If you are experiencing TMJ pain, call us at (770) 467-3559 or contact us online to find out the options we can offer you to relieve your TMJ pain today.