Ideally, everyone’s teeth would bite together in an even way, optimizing tooth function and oral health. Unfortunately this is rarely the case, as very few people will have perfect teeth. Orthodontic problems can create issues with biting and chewing, and with speaking and oral hygiene, and may lead to premature tooth wear, or could cause problems with the jaw joints if not treated. In addition, a misaligned smile can look less appealing. You’ll often hear a bad bite being called malocclusion which simply means the teeth don’t occlude or bite together correctly.
Malocclusion can be caused by a number of different things and sometimes it’s genetic, but it can also be due to childhood habits such as thumb or finger sucking, mouth breathing, losing milk teeth too early or too late, or it may be due to an accident. Malocclusion is also affected by the way the jaws develop, as too much or too little growth in the upper or lower jaws will impact the way the teeth meet together. Common orthodontic problems include:
- Underbite. If your child has an underbite then you’ll notice the lower jaw extends out beyond the upper jaw, causing the lower front teeth to bite in front of the upper front teeth.
- Crossbite. This is where the upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth, as normally they should bite outside the lower teeth.
- Overbite. An overbite is the opposite problem to an underbite, and is where the upper teeth bite too far forward of the lower front teeth. If the problem is particularly pronounced then the lower front teeth might actually bite into the roof of the mouth.
- Open bite. An open bite makes it difficult to bite and chew food properly, as the upper and lower front teeth will not come into contact even when the back teeth are biting together. This problem might be caused by thumb sucking or tongue thrusting.
- Overcrowded teeth. If there is insufficient room in the jaw for the teeth to erupt normally then they can become overcrowded and crooked. Sometimes this problem can be corrected by expanding the arch of the jaw, avoiding the need for tooth extraction.
- Spacing. Spaces can develop in between teeth, and these may be caused by teeth that aren’t present. This problem might be more of a cosmetic issue, but the gaps can act as food traps, increasing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
- Protruding upper front teeth. This is where the upper front teeth extend too far forward compared to the lower teeth, or it could be that the lower teeth are too far back.
- Mid-lines out of alignment. This is where the centerlines of your upper and lower teeth are not evenly matched. This might be down to the jaw being out of alignment, or it could be just a cosmetic problem.
Your pediatric dentist will keep a close eye on the way your children’s teeth and jaws develop, especially around the age of six or seven. This is because early treatment can often help correct or minimize common orthodontic problems, reducing or even eliminating the need for orthodontic treatment in the future. An orthodontist can begin to assess the way your children’s teeth will develop as soon as certain adult teeth begin to emerge. Appliances designed to create more space in the jaw or to direct the eruption of adult teeth use your child’s growth around this age to maximize results.