What is a Malocclusion?

A malocclusion is an incorrect relationship between the maxilla (upper jaw) and the mandible (lower jaw), or a general misalignment of the teeth.  Malocclusions are so common that most individuals experience one, to some degree.  The poor alignment of the teeth is thought to be a result of genetic factors sometimes combined with decay or loss of baby teeth, poor oral habits, or other factors in the early years.

Moderate malocclusion commonly requires treatment by a specially trained general dentist or an orthodontic specialist.

The following are three main classifications of malocclusion:

  • Class I – The upper and lower jaws are coordinated properly with one another, but there are spacing or overcrowding problems with the other teeth. Some Class I malocclusions will have deep- or open-bites, where the front teeth excessively overlap the bottom teeth, or don't touch the bottom teeth at all.
  • Class II – The malocclusion is an overjet (commonly but incorrectly called an overbite) where the upper teeth are positioned further forward than the lower teeth.  This can be caused by the lower jaw being too short, or from being placed too far back in the face. The front teeth might "stick out" (protrude) but it is rare for the upper jaw to be placed too far forward. The front teeth might also look "pushed back."
  • Class III – also known as “underbite,” is a malocclusion characterized by the lower teeth being positioned further forward than the upper teeth.  An underbite usually occurs when the lower jaw is too large (Prognathism), or the upper jaw is too short or is positioned too far back in the skull.

Reasons for treating a malocclusion

A severe malocclusion may lead to skeletal disharmony of the lower face.  In a more extreme case, the dentist or orthodontist may work in combination with an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to reconstruct the jaw.  It is never too late to seek treatment for a malocclusion.  Children and adults alike have completed orthodontic realignment procedures and have been delighted with the resulting even, straight smile.

Here are some of the main reasons to seek orthodontic treatment for a malocclusion:

  • Reduced risk of tooth decay – crooked teeth are much more decay prone, and decay is more difficult to detect, especially in the early (and easier to treat) stages. Also, a malocclusion often causes an uneven wear pattern on the teeth.  The constant wearing of the same teeth can lead to tooth erosion and decay.
  • Better oral hygiene – When too many teeth are competing for too little space, it is more difficult to clean the teeth and gums effectively.  It is much easier to clean straight teeth that are properly aligned.
  • Reduced risk of TMJ – Temporomandibular jaw syndrome (TMJ syndrome) is often thought to be caused by a malocclusion.  Headaches, facial pains and grinding teeth during sleep all result from the excessive pressure to the temporomandibular joint.  Realigning the teeth reduces pressure, and can reduce or eliminate these symptoms.

If you have any questions about malocclusions, please contact our office.