Did you know that dentists look for more than just cavities in your mouth? They also examine the relationship between your upper (maxillary) and lower (mandibular) teeth as they come into contact with each other. This relationship is called occlusion and the chewing surface of the teeth is called the occlusal. When a person brings their jaws together in order to chew or bite, the way the occlusal surface comes together can affect more than just those teeth. The force from the functional contact can affect other teeth, the gums, jaw muscles, jaw joint, the neck and even the head. Patients who clench or grind their teeth may also be exerting force which could cause a breakdown of the oral structures and overall health.
To better understand how bite occlusion works, people need to be aware that there are four main muscles of mastication. These muscles work together to generate incredible forces when chewing, grinding or clenching. When the teeth are misaligned, the force can be destructive to the ligaments and bone which holds the teeth in place. Misalignment can also affect the muscles in the head, neck and jaw joint. The types of occlusion include:
- Class I malocclusion is considered the ideal positioning because it has the least amount of destructive interference. When biting down, the lower anterior incisors are usually sitting just behind the upper anterior incisors.
- Class II malocclusion is typically referred to as having an overbite. The lower anterior incisors are positioned considerably behind the upper anterior incisors as the patient bites down. The lower front teeth typically hit near, or on the gum tissue, behind the upper teeth.
- Class III malocclusion is often called a crossbite. The lower anterior incisors are positioned edge to edge with the anterior incisors or they might be positioned just in front of them.
People experiencing any malocclusion, or an imperfect positioning of the teeth when the jaw is closed, might not be aware that there is a problem. However, there can be several signs of problems with your occlusion. Some of the signs may include tooth breakage, tooth sensitivity, excessive tooth wear, tooth loss and previous root canals. People who experience headaches, joint noises or muscle pain in the head, neck and joint of the jaw may also have malocclusion. Untreated malocclusion can lead to further health issues such as chronic headaches, tooth movement, injury to the teeth and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
Malocclusions can be treated but, to develop an appropriate treatment plan, the dentist will take a series of x-rays, photographs and impressions of the teeth. The dentist will use the data to determine the most suitable treatment plan to improve your occlusion. Depending on the oral structures of the patient, the dentist may need to reshape or reposition your teeth and/or restore any dental crowns, veneers or composite bonding. More severe cases may require a surgery or a repositioning of the jaw by the dentist.