Causes of Malocclusion

Although we in the United States have access to the most advanced dental care in the world, there is at least one area where we seem to be among the worst in the world: malocclusion. The consensus among comprehensive dentists is that the majority of the population suffers from bad bite. In other words, our teeth do not properly line up, leading to functional dental problems in chewing, inordinate tooth wear, and accelerated dental decay, in addition to cosmetic problems in our smile.

Thus, while most of the population of non-industrialized countries has appropriate bite alignment, those of us in industrialized countries generally suffer from a misalignment of our jaw. The biggest question is why would this be so? Why would countries with such expensive and advanced dental care systems suffer from so many problems in our teeth? A recent editorial in the trade journal for specialists in neuromuscular dentistry, LVI Visions, explains why.

Breathe Easy

The primary causative factor in the development of bad bite is airway obstruction during childhood. Exposure to allergens during childhood, including food allergies like chocolate, milk, and wheat, as well as environmental allergies like dust and pet dander that build up in the enclosed air systems utilized in Western societies, causes children to produce excess mucous, leading to runny noses and, more importantly, to a buildup of mucous in the back of the throat. This mucous impairs the functionality of cilia, tiny tentacles that line the throat, beating 10 to 20 times a second to drive bacteria and other foreign bodies down the throat to be swallowed.

When the cilia can’t do their job, foreign matter accumulates in the back of the throat, and bacteria grow into large colonies, forcing the tonsils and adenoids to work harder to fight this incipient infection. When the tonsils and adenoids work this hard, they overdevelop, or hypertrophy, making it difficult for people to breathe through their nose and causing them to become mouth-breathers.

Mouth Breathing and Malocclusion

Mouth breathing is the immediate culprit in the development of malocclusion. During development, the body is seeking the appropriate balance between the sphincter action of the buccinator muscles, which flatten our cheeks and push our jaws inward, and the outward pushing of our tongue, the strongest muscle in the human body. When children breathe through their mouths, their tongue is often placed out of position for supporting its side of the conflict. This leads to a constriction of the arch of the child’s jaw.

In addition, the tongue can rest over where the back teeth are supposed to erupt, hampering the process and forcing the body to move the jaw back in order to properly get the rear teeth together, leading to a general overbite tendency in the population.

Furthermore, the development fostered by this process leads to mouth-breathing for the rest of that child’s life in two ways. First, the tongue that now has insufficient room in the arch of the jaw is forced backward into the throat, leading to more constriction of the airway that is rectified with mouth-breathing. Second, the constriction of the arch of the jaw also leads to a high palate that constructs the turbinate space in the airways. This means that any swelling in the sinuses can restrict or block the airway, again forcing mouth breathing.

What Can Be Done

Neuromuscular dentists are already doing their part. They have made a commitment to recognizing the early stages of malocclusion and trying to rectify it before it causes too many serious problems for a child. This includes not only dental treatment, but correction of snoring problems as well. You can do your part by making sure your child sees a dentist as early as age 2, but definitely by age 3. Whenever possible, take preventive actions, not only following your dentist’s advice, but working to reduce allergens around the home. Some ways to reduce allergens in your home include:

· Reduce carpeting and soft furniture
· Improve ventilation
· Use a dehumidifier
· Keep Central heating low
· Use High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters and vacuum cleaners
· Try to reduce dust mites and pet dander without introducing unnecessary chemicals

If you do these things, you can help your children avoid the lifelong problems that come with malocclusion, including not only dental problems, but facial pain, headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and unexplained tingling in the arms and hands.

About the Author
For more information on how to prevent and/or treat malocclusion, consult the web page of Pittsburgh-area neuromuscular dentist Alexandra S. George.

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