In common parlance, ‘bite’ means sinking teeth into something to eat it. However, it has one more meaning that is related to dental health. In dentistry, ‘bite’ refers to teeth alignment when upper and lower teeth join inside the mouth. When this alignment is missing, it is called a malocclusion or a ‘bad bite.’ According to a study, the US has the third-highest number of malocclusion cases.
What problems does malocclusion cause?
Malocclusion is considered only a cosmetic issue by many. However, studies have shown that a ‘bad bite’ is actually bad for your oral health. For example, a 2018-study showed that malocclusion affects the oral health-related quality of life (OHRQoL). Another study conducted in 2020 reiterated that the severity of malocclusion and deterioration in OHRQoL are directly proportional. It also highlighted the gender-specific psychological impact of malocclusion. Dental health problems resulting from malocclusion include a higher risk of gum disease, temporomandibular disorder, damage because of friction between teeth, and plaque formation.
Image Credit: Pinterest
What are the causes of malocclusion?
Besides hereditary and environmental factors, causes of malocclusion include:
• Incorrect myofunctional habits such as thumb-sucking, using pacifiers beyond age 3, tongue thrusting, and prolonged bottle-feeding
• Impacted, additional, or abnormally-shaped teeth
• Incorrect fitting of orthodontic appliances such as braces, retainer, or crowns
• Face or jaw injury leading to misalignment
• Tumors affecting the mouth and jaw
What are the different types of ‘bite’ issues?
The American Association of Orthodontists has listed seven bite problems common in children and adults.
Deep Bite (also called Overbite or Closed Bite)
When the upper front teeth overlie the lower front teeth when closing the mouth, it is called a deep bite. Missing lower teeth or a smaller lower jaw are its most common causes. Clenching and teeth-grinding can deepen the bite. Deep bite also causes teeth crowding, and misalignments of the lower front teeth develop under the top ones, leading to congestion.
The upper and lower teeth are supposed to meet, not fit inside each other. However, crossbite makes the upper teeth inset into the lower teeth. The two types of crossbites are posterior crossbite and anterior crossbite. In a posterior crossbite, teeth at the back are affected, and upper teeth slot into the lower teeth. Anterior crossbite affects the front teeth, leading to the top teeth moving behind the lower teeth. Note that the upper teeth are naturally wider and lay on the outside of the lower teeth when teeth are correctly lined up. Crossbite may affect a single tooth or more.
Image Credit: Anderson Dental
Contrary to crossbites, open bites cause a gap when the top and bottom teeth come together. Anterior and posterior are the two types of open bites. An anterior open bite is when the incisors do not meet when the molars are together. A posterior open bite means molars remain apart when incisors join. Open bites can cause speech problems and difficulty swallowing and need early orthodontic intervention.
A severe type of malocclusion, an underbite makes lower teeth protrude beyond the upper front teeth. This condition is also known as prognathism. An underbite often causes a bulldog-like facial appearance. However, many cases are milder, and the effect of underbite on the appearance of the face and jaw may go unnoticed. With or without cosmetic challenges, an underbite is associated with problems such as difficulty eating, chewing, speaking, and pain in the mouth and jaw.
When the upper incisors cover the lower incisors entirely or partially, it’s called an overbite. Constant pressure because of overlap can grind down the bottom front teeth in this dental condition. ‘Gummy smile’ caused by damage to the gum tissue is another effect of an overbite. Treatment for overbites differs depending on their severity.
Spacing is a common bite issue. However, it can severely impact dental health when left untreated. The extra spaces between teeth could become a breeding ground for cavities, plaque, and gum diseases. These gaps between teeth occur because of inconsistency between the size of teeth and jaw space.
Crowded teeth are another common dental anomaly that can cause caries and gum diseases. The lack of space in the mouth for teeth to grow correctly makes them misshaped or displaced. It also makes cleaning them properly difficult. In addition, crowding can affect people’s confidence while talking and smiling. Different types of braces (traditional, lingual, and invisible braces) help resolve most crowding-related issues.
The dental midline lies between your two upper and two lower front teeth. Usually, dental midlines on top and bottom midlines should coincide with the mid-point of your face. The absence of this alignment is called a “deviated” midline, a type of malocclusion. It can trigger dental health problems and worsen ongoing jaw issues. Midline correction involves braces with or without tooth extraction at first. Ask your dentist for laser dentistry options if the thought of tooth removal or any other invasive dental procedure leaves you anxious or prevents you from taking dental treatments. You can find out more about how pain-free laser dentistry works here or by consulting your local orthodontist. Keep in mind that Invisalign cannot be used for midline correction.
How can you prevent bite problems?
It is easier to prevent orthodontic issues rather than correct them later. Preventing bite issues works best during childhood. Here are a few tips to help your child grow with healthy and well-aligned teeth.
1. Nip thumb-sucking in the bud
Thumb sucking creates pressure on your teeth and may lead to protrusion of the front upper teeth.
2. Keep an eye on breathing
Unless there’s a respiratory issue, the correct way to breathe is through the nose. Inhaling through the nose supports facial and jaw development in children. Ensure that they do not breathe through their mouths as it can cause jaw misalignment.
3. Avoid bottle-feeding and using pacifiers for too long
Both these habits are associated with the development of bite issues. Avoid feeding through bottles and using pacifiers for children above three years.