Malocclusion is a pain in the neck – Martin OatesFeatured Products Promotional Features
Posted by: The Probe 1st March 2018
Many people in the UK will have suffered the effects of malocclusion at some point in their lifetime. Most cases of malocclusion (commonly known as a ‘bad bite’) are genetically-inherited traits, and usually develop from childhood when the teeth and jaw are still growing. Other cases are the result of thumb-sucking beyond a certain age, or from a mismatch between the teeth and jaws – large teeth in a small mouth, for example, can lead to overcrowding. The most obvious consequence of malocclusion are the aesthetics of a person’s smile, which can have a negative impact on their confidence and self-esteem. What some patients might not be aware of is that malocclusion can also cause other, more serious physical problems to the rest of their body if left untreated.
We are already familiar with the fact that having crooked teeth and an abnormal bite can make it harder for people to maintain good oral hygiene, as food particles can get trapped in hard-to-reach spaces between teeth. If not removed through routine brushing and flossing, this can lead to bacteria growth and plaque build-up, increasing a person’s risk of developing dental caries and periodontal disease. These effects can interfere with the way a person chews or speaks, reducing their overall quality of life. What may come as a surprise to many patients is that malocclusion can put additional stress onto other parts of the body, including the head, neck, shoulders and back.
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is a condition often associated with malocclusion, which can cause pains and aches in your jaw joint, and the muscles that control jaw movement. Symptoms of TMD are relatively common, affecting up to 25% of the population and more common in women between the ages of 20 and 50.[i] The exact cause of TMD can be quite difficult to determine in each person – it could be due to a combination of factors, including the prevalence of arthritis or an injury to the jaw, but many in the dental profession believe that malocclusion plays a role in developing TMD. The rationale for addressing malocclusion in the treatment of TMD is based on the observation that, when misaligned teeth do not sit properly, this can cause abnormal stresses and strains on the jaw joint when a person talks, chews and swallows.[ii] Malocclusion may direct the jaw into uncomfortable positions causing muscle fatigue and pain, creating a domino effect that leads to other aches and pains throughout the body.
In fact, some doctors believe that malocclusion is responsible for back pain.[iii] As well as giving people the ability to chew, teeth also serve the purpose of supporting the skull and providing spinal stability. If the lower jaw is underdeveloped and too far back, or teeth are misaligned, the support of the skull will tilt, leading to a build up of tense muscles. Because the jaw cannot close properly, it is always using the muscles and nerves in the head, neck, shoulder and back to keep the jaw at an angle. Eventually, the tense muscles become sore and painful, disrupting the posture and normal movement of a person’s body. The consequence of this is that they can suffer from effects such as chronic back pain, or poor posture, including a tilted pelvis or one shoulder being higher than the other.
Researchers have found that malocclusion can negatively impact a person’s balance, flexibility and range of motion, although these effects are not always obvious when the body is in a normal state of rest or inactivity. Improper balance and bad posture resulting from malocclusion can increase the risk of injury when participating in physical activities, because muscles and bones that are already stretched become further strained.[iv] However, posture and balance control can greatly improve if the jaw is realigned and malocclusions are corrected – this has another valuable benefit of further opening the airway, resulting in improved breathing and increased stamina, as well as helping to treat conditions like sleep apnoea.
As you are aware, there are various treatments for malocclusion. Practitioners, however, must first assess what type of malocclusion a patient has, in order to devise an effective treatment plan. That is why it is important that practitioners use the most appropriate methods to measure a patient’s occlusion. The Bite-Chek Articulating Film system from Dental Express, for example, offers much greater accuracy of occlusal measurements, as opposed to more traditional solutions. This is because of its thin, easy-grip design that allows the film to stretch without snapping back or tearing, preventing the occurrence of false marks.
Practitioners must make patients aware that untreated malocclusion can cause long-term physical effects to the body, further to any dental health problems. Education, therefore, is key to ensuring that patients do not underestimate the negative effects of malocclusion and, instead, seek the treatment they require to correct it.
[i] Sambrook, J. (2016) Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction and Pain Syndromes. Link: https://patient.info/doctor/temporomandibular-joint-dysfunction-and-pain-syndromes#ref-2. [Last accessed: 08.01.18].
[ii] Levy, J.H. (Unknown) Achieving Optimal Oral Health: TMD and Malocclusion. Link: http://www.jayharrislevy.com/TMD_and_Malocclusion.html. [Last accessed 09.01.18].
[iii] Dental Guide. (2017) A Guide to Dental Occlusion. Link: https://www.dentalguide.co.uk/patient-guides/a-guide-to-dental-occlusion/. [Last accessed: 08.01.18].
[iv] Plataforma SINC. (2016) A bad bite is associated with worse postural, balance control. Link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160914090458.htm. [Last accessed: 09.01.18].
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