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Malocclusion is the medical term for a bad bite, where someone’s teeth are misaligned and don’t make proper contact. There may be an underlying issue with the upper or lower jaw.
With an ideal bite, the top and bottom teeth fit well together when your mouth is closed. The backs of your top front teeth should sit gently in front of your bottom front teeth.
Many people have varying degrees of malocclusion. Their teeth don’t quite fit together in an ideal way. Depending on the type and severity of the malocclusion, health problems can result, including sleep apnea and gum disease.
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Malocclusions include overbites, underbites, and several other conditions. There are multiple possible causes of malocclusion, and they may overlap:
Whatever the underlying cause, orthodontic treatment and/or surgery can generally correct the issue, creating (or restoring) a perfect bite.
The symptoms of malocclusion are usually obvious, but some are subtle and may include:
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There are three different classes of malocclusion, referred to as class I, II, and III:
Within these three classes, there are seven common types of malocclusion. Orthodontic treatment options also vary depending on age and the type and severity of the malocclusion.
Dental crowding occurs when there isn’t enough space in the mouth for the permanent teeth to grow in straight. Crowding often only affects the front teeth, making it a class I malocclusion.
Crowding can be caused by a person’s jaw not being big enough to fit all of their teeth properly, or by alignment issues from when they first lost their baby teeth.
Common treatment options for dental crowding include:
An excessive overbite is a class II malocclusion, where the upper teeth are too far forward compared to the lower teeth. When a person’s mouth is closed, the top front teeth come straight down, but they cover more of the bottom teeth than they should.
An excessive overbite should be treated as soon as possible. If left untreated, breathing problems, jaw disorders, and oral health issues can develop.
Common excessive overbite treatment options include:
An excessive overjet is a class II malocclusion, similar to an excessive overbite.
The difference between an excessive overbite and an excessive overjet is that an overjet is horizontal rather than vertical. The top front teeth protrude at an angle and don’t make contact with the bottom front teeth.
Excessive overjets are often caused by thumb sucking or tongue thrusting in childhood. Untreated excessive overjets can result in temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
Common treatment options for excessive overjets include
A crossbite is a class II malocclusion that occurs when a few bottom teeth are located outside the upper teeth when the mouth is closed.
Genetics, mouth breathing, delayed permanent teeth eruption, and childhood habits (e.g., thumb sucking) can cause this malocclusion.
A crossbite may involve the front teeth (anterior crossbite), with one or more lower teeth coming out in front of the upper teeth. This can look like a partial underbite.
An underbite can also occur together with a crossbite, so all the bottom teeth (front and back) are outside the top teeth.
Common crossbite treatment options include:
An underbite is a class III malocclusion that occurs when the lower teeth are in front of the lower teeth.
If an underbite is skeletal, the bones of the jaw are involved. Either the lower jaw is overdeveloped, or the upper jaw is underdeveloped.
Some underbites are dental and only affect the teeth. They may occur together with a crossbite.
Like an overbite, an underbite should be treated as early as possible to prevent health problems.
Common underbite treatment options include:
An open bite is the rarest form of malocclusion. It occurs when the upper and lower teeth slant outwards and do not touch when the mouth is closed. An open bite can affect the front or back teeth.
This condition may be caused by genetic factors or teeth that don’t erupt properly. Habits like thumb sucking can also cause an open bite. Untreated open bites typically result in speaking problems, as well as issues tearing and chewing food.
Common treatment options for open bites include:
A diastema is when there is a space or gap between two or more teeth. Gaps can range in size, with some being barely noticeable and others being more prominent. A midline diastema, which appears as a gap between the two upper front teeth, is the most common form of diastema.
Common treatment options for spaced teeth include:
A mild malocclusion may not cause health problems, especially if it doesn’t involve jaw misalignment. However, it may pose a cosmetic issue, affecting a person’s self-image and social life.
On the other hand, malocclusion may involve severe dental crowding and/or jaw alignment issues. In cases like these, early treatment can prevent further complications, such as:
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Children and adults alike can receive effective treatment for malocclusions of all kinds. Many treatment options are available, allowing people to receive care tailored to their specific needs.
For children, early treatment with braces, clear aligners, and other orthodontic devices can resolve tooth and jaw alignment problems before adulthood.
Adolescents and adults, in particular, may require orthognathic (jaw-correcting) surgery to fully address severe malocclusions.
Malocclusion refers to cases where a person’s teeth and/or jaw are misaligned (a bad bite). Many people have some degree of malocclusion.
Genes, childhood diet and habits, illnesses, and injuries can all play a role in malocclusions. Some are mild and may not need treatment, but there is often a risk of complications if the condition is left untreated.
Various treatments can be used for malocclusions for children and adults alike. Talk to your dentist or orthodontist if you or your child have misaligned teeth or jaws.
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