Have you recently been told that your child has a malocclusion? This is a medical term that can sound extremely serious, especially if you know that the prefix mal means bad. Occlusion, however, means closure, so the term malocclusion simply means bad closure. When this is used in dentistry, it means that your child’s upper and lower teeth do not fit together properly when the teeth are pressed together. In other words, your child has a bad bite, whether that’s an overbite, underbite, or crossbite.
Types of Malocclusion
It’s important to understand that malocclusions don’t present any severe effects on the health of your child. However, they may make it difficult for your child to talk, form words, speak and chew. If the malocclusion is serious enough, it may also affect your child’s facial appearance. While these problems are concerning, they’re not typically life-threatening and can often be corrected with the use of custom orthodontic appliances.
- Overbite – Where the front teeth overlap the bottom teeth either due to forward protruding teeth or a misalignment of the upper and lower jaws. The latter is often referred to as an overjet. Most people have some form of an overbite.
- Underbite – Where the bottom teeth overlap the upper teeth. Minor underbites don’t typically cause problems. Severe underbites can cause difficulty in speaking and chewing. Thumb sucking and pacifier use of children three years and older can contribute to the development of an underbite.
- Crossbite – Where the upper teeth connect with the insides of the lower teeth when the jaw is closed.
- Open Bite – When the front upper and lower teeth do not connect or don’t overlap the bottom teeth.
- Teeth Crowding – This occurs when the teeth are too close together or overlap each other. Typically occurs when the jaw is too small for all the teeth.
- Improper Gaps Between Teeth – Spacing between the teeth often occurs when the teeth are small or the jaw has more space than the teeth need.
Habits, Conditions, and Factors that Contribute to a Misaligned Bite
No one factor tends to contribute to the development of malocclusions. However, several factors and conditions have been known to increase your child’s risk of developing a bad bite.
- Excessive mouth breathing
- Extended bottle feeding into early childhood
- Genetics or family history of malocclusions
- Childhood thumb sucking
- Having a cleft lip or cleft palate
- Jaw injuries or history of jaw tumors
- Using a pacifier past the age of three
Benefits of Diagnosing Malocclusions Early
Our pediatric dentists in Ponte Vedra, Dr. Maples and Dr. Thomas, and our orthodontist, Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Crews, recommend getting malocclusions diagnosed as early as possible, usually by the age of seven or eight years of age. When under, over, cross and openbites are diagnosed early, they are easier to correct because your child’s face and jaw are still developing and fixed or removable orthodontic appliances have a better chance of correcting the problem without the need for surgery. The additional benefit of correcting bites early is that the use of orthodontic appliances can eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of time your child has to get used to wearing braces as a teenager.
Treatments for Malocclusion
One form of treatment for severe malocclusions include palatal expanders, which help to widen the upper jaw so that the upper teeth have enough room to correctly emerge from the upper gums. Separators or spacers are another option and are placed between the teeth in order to help with crowded teeth and are usually used in conjunction with braces. Other orthodontic appliances that we use at our Ponte Vedra family dentistry include lingual arches, which help maintain the position of the molars. Twin blocks also help with jaw position and retainers, which are used to maintain the positions of the teeth after braces are removed.
The good news about malocclusions is that they are often treated while your child’s jaw is still developing. To schedule your child’s next dental appointment at our Ponte Vedra Pediatric Dentistry, contact us at 904-373-5120.