The bite is one of the first things dentists and orthodontists look at when working with a new patient. You’d be surprised how much we can learn simply by looking at how the top and bottom teeth fit together.
A bad bite can be harmful for oral health and can go far beyond the mouth, too, leading to a variety of issues that can crop up in other parts of the body.
The Effects of Malocclusion on Oral Health and Function
A malocclusion – the technical word for a bad bite – can cause a number of problems depending on the nature of the bite. When the top and bottom don’t fit together well, the result is accelerated wear and tear on teeth which can lead to cavities, gum recession, and cracked or chipped teeth. A bad bite may also be a sign of crowding of teeth, which can cause painful impacted teeth that are unable to fully emerge through the gums and can occasionally become infected.
A bite that’s “off” can also have implications for important day-to-day functions. It can cause problems with biting, chewing, or proper speech production. A particular type of malocclusion is an open bite, which is associated with difficulty in closing the lips together, drooling, and dry mouth, and can cause problems swallowing correctly.
Bad Bites, the TMJ, and Beyond the Jaw
When the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint, or TMJ) doesn’t work properly, the result is temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. TMD can be aggravated or even caused by a bad bite.
TMD can show up in unexpected places. In addition to causing popping, clicking, and pain in the jaw joint itself, it can cause the following common symptoms:
- Ringing in the ears
- Headaches and migraines
- Face pain
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Back pain
TMD is also a cause of bruxism, or grinding of teeth, which can lead to early wear and tear on teeth as well as pain in the jaw.
A Bad Bite and Self-Esteem
Last but not least are the effects of a bad bite on a person’s psychological health and self-esteem. While many bites only appear “bad” to a dentist or orthodontist, sometimes they are severe enough to be noticeable to everyone. An obvious overbite, underbite, or crossbite can be embarrassing and cause someone to hide their teeth and refrain from smiling.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being an orthodontist is watching a patient go from embarrassed of their teeth to being able to smile proudly. It may sound like a small fix, but it’s not; it can be life-changing.
Beyond the Obvious
Some people with a bad bite may not experience any obvious problems from it (such as the inability to chew or swallow properly) or care how it affects their appearance. But that doesn’t mean the malocclusion is harmless. It could be the direct cause of cavities and gum recession that require invasive dental and endodontic treatment, or it could cause TMD that leads to neuromuscular pain and jaw dysfunction. That’s why it’s important to have a bad bite addressed – at any age.