Dentistry
Cosmetic
Product Reviews
NewMouth is reader supported. We may earn a commission if you purchase something using one of our links. Advertising Disclosure.

Misaligned Teeth or Jaw - Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Updated on June 24, 2022
Khushbu Gopalakrishnan Headshot
Written by Zia Sherrell
Medically Reviewed by Khushbu Gopalakrishnan

Misaligned Teeth (Malocclusion)

Misaligned teeth (malocclusion) is a common problem that can affect your smile and oral health. Malocclusion includes a variety of problems, such as: 

  • Crowded or crooked teeth
  • Insufficient room for all the teeth to come out
  • Misalignment of the upper and lower teeth when biting down 

When correctly aligned, the upper teeth should slightly overlap the lower teeth. Proper alignment allows for effective chewing through an even distribution of forces. However, around 75% of people have some degree of malocclusion.1

Misaligned teeth can cause various problems, including:2

  • Uneven tooth wear
  • Enamel damage
  • Gum disease due to difficulty maintaining oral hygiene 
  • Tooth decay
  • Difficulty chewing or biting food
  • Speech problems
  • Jaw pain
  • Mouth breathing

The type and severity of malocclusion can vary significantly. Your dentist may recommend braces or other corrective devices for mild cases of malocclusion. For more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to realign the teeth.

Types of Teeth Misalignment

There are several types of malocclusion:

  • Overbite — Upper front teeth overlap the lower teeth too much, or they come out at an angle (“buck teeth”)
  • Underbite — Opposite of an overbite; occurs when your lower teeth protrude out in front of the upper jaw
  • Crossbite — Teeth tilt towards the cheeks or tongue, preventing them from meeting the  teeth in the opposite arch at the correct angle
  • Open bite — There's a space between the upper and lower teeth when biting down
  • Overcrowding — Teeth are too crowded, forcing some to come in at odd angles
  • Spacing — Teeth are spaced too far apart; a space between the upper two front teeth is called a diastema

Clear aligners can save you thousands of dollars compared to braces. Learn about clear aligners.

10 Causes of Misaligned Teeth

Here are some potential causes of teeth misalignment: 

1. Size mismatch between the jaw and teeth

The most common cause of misaligned teeth is a jaw that's too small compared to the size of the teeth. Even a slight mismatch can cause overcrowding of the teeth, which then become misaligned as they seek the path of least resistance when erupting.3

2. Habitual thumb-sucking

Thumb-sucking is a common habit in children. If the habit becomes chronic, it can cause misalignment. The same problem occurs if someone habitually pushes their tongue against their front teeth.

3. Lost teeth

If a tooth is lost, it creates a gap. The surrounding teeth may shift to fill the space if it isn't replaced with an implant, denture, or bridge. This can result in misaligned teeth.

4. Congenital anomalies of the jaw

Babies can be born with jaw problems that can cause misaligned teeth. These include cleft palate, which happens when the roof of the mouth doesn't form properly. The teeth then push forward and don't line up properly.4

5. Trauma to the face or head

A face or head injury can damage or fracture the bones and tissues that support the teeth. This can cause the teeth to become misaligned.5

6. Tumors or growths in the mouth

Tumors or other growths can develop in the mouth. Depending on the location, they may force the teeth out of alignment as they grow.

7. Teeth grinding (bruxism)

Grinding or clenching your teeth can gradually push them out of their proper position. Eventually, this can result in a misaligned bite and problems with the temporomandibular joint.

8. Medical conditions

Various medical conditions can cause malocclusion. These include Down syndrome and Turner syndrome. These conditions can cause abnormal jaw growth during fetal development.

9. Lack of dental care

Without treatment, dental problems, such as gum disease and cavities, can lead to misaligned and crooked teeth. Therefore, visiting the dentist regularly is essential to catch any problems early.

10. Poor nutrition

Not getting enough vitamins and minerals can lead to dental problems, including malocclusion. For example, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is critical for strong, hard bones. Without enough vitamin D, the bones can soften, affecting tooth alignment.

How to Fix Misaligned Teeth 

Treatment depends on the severity of the malocclusion, the person's age, and their skeletal development. Sometimes, dentists may need to administer treatment in several stages. Potential options include:

Braces

These dental appliances consist of brackets bonded to the teeth, connected by wires and elastic bands, that exert forces on the teeth to gradually move them.

Once the teeth align correctly, the braces are removed, and the person must wear retainers to prevent the teeth from shifting back. Most people will wear the retainer for 24 hours per day initially, then only at night for 2 to 3 years.

Clear aligners

These are custom-made, clear plastic appliances, similar to retainers. Like braces, they gradually move the teeth into alignment through tooth-colored ‘buttons’ temporarily bonded onto the tooth. 

Each aligner can move teeth up to 0.3 mm. Then, the aligners are continuously replaced until the malocclusion is corrected. As with braces, the person must use a retainer to keep the teeth from shifting back.3

Tooth removal

A dentist may need to remove or extract teeth to alleviate overcrowding. This allows the remaining teeth more space and improves their fit. 

Sometimes, tooth removal occurs before someone has braces or tooth aligners.

Surgery

Jaw anomalies or improperly healed fractures may require surgical correction. This may involve breaking bones and repositioning them with screws and plates. 

A person may also require braces or other treatment in conjunction with surgery. 

We recommend at-home clear aligners if you have mild teeth misalignment. View our top recommendations.

Can You Prevent Teeth Misalignment? 

Yes, in some cases you may be able to prevent teeth misalignment. However, it depends on the underlying cause.

Some things that may help prevent malocclusion include:6

  • Encouraging children not to suck their thumb
  • Using pacifiers sparingly or not at all
  • Wearing a mouthguard when playing sports
  • Using a special mouthguard at night if you grind your teeth
  • Addressing conditions that cause jaw anomalies
  • Visiting the dentist regularly for check-ups

Summary

Several different factors can cause malocclusion or misaligned teeth. These include thumb-sucking, premature tooth loss, and jaw anomalies.

In some cases, it may be possible to prevent malocclusion. However, it depends on the underlying cause.

Treatment options for misaligned teeth include braces, tooth aligners, and surgery.

What’s Next?

The most popular at-home clear aligner kits can be found right here:

Learn about the different brands and what they offer.

Last updated on June 24, 2022
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on June 24, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Alhammadi, M., et al. “Global distribution of malocclusion traits: A systematic review.” Dental press journal of orthodontics. 2018.
  2. Malocclusion.” Cleveland Clinic. 2021.
  3. Hennessy, B. “Malocclusion.” Merck Manuel. 2021.
  4. Joshi, N., “Skeletal malocclusion: a developmental disorder with a life-long morbidity.” Journal of clinical medicine research. 2014.
  5. Zhou, H., et al. “Clinical, retrospective case-control study on the mechanics of obstacle in mouth opening and malocclusion in patients with maxillofacial fractures.” Scientific reports. 2018.
  6. Vithanaarachchi, V.V. “The Prevention of Malocclusions.” Open Access Journal of Dental Sciences. 2017.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram