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Shelley Shearer: Misaligned jaw causes overbites, underbites, conditions that your dentist can treat

In our society, someone with protruding teeth or enlarged jaw is often taunted by their peers. When the upper and lower teeth don’t meet comfortably, the cause is usually a misaligned jaw.

Dentists often see overbites, when the upper teeth protrude, and underbites when the lower teeth sit in front of the upper teeth. While some bite problems are harmless, others can cause discomfort, pain and damage to the teeth and jaw. When the condition is severe, it can interfere with eating, breathing, sleeping and speech.

How Do I Know If I Have a Bad Bite?

 Abnormal alignment of teeth
 You bite down hard and feel pain in a particular tooth or discomfort in the jaw joint
 Abnormal appearance of the face
 You’ve given yourself the “clench test.” Close your mouth and bite down hard. Do any teeth hurt when you do this? Can you grind your teeth in a circular motion and not feel pain?
 Difficulty when chewing or biting
 Jaw joint pain or noises
 Speech problems, especially a lisp
 You notice severe wear on your teeth, especially on the edges where the enamel has worn away from the grind of other teeth
 Well-meaning friends may comment on your unusual jaw line and affect your self-esteem

Shelley Shearer

Don’t Feel Guilty

Many abnormal bites are inherited. Take a look at Pop and Meemaw’s teeth and jaws. You may see mouths that are too small for their teeth, thus causing overcrowding. Maybe they have crooked teeth, overbites or underbites.

Those who realize they have genetic problems from parents or grandparents should seek treatment. They must also attempt to ween their own children from pacifiers and thumb-sucking as soon as possible. Allowing these practices to linger can cause the mouth and jaw to grow disproportionately. Begin taking the kids to the dentist as soon as baby teeth start developing. This will help catch misalignment and teeth growing crooked. Yes, baby teeth fall out. But their presence creates the positioning for the incoming permanent teeth!


Dentists call a mismatched bite “malocclusion.” Abnormal bites are often categorized into four levels. The first is the most common; the bite is normal but the lower teeth are overlapped by the top teeth. An overbite is considered the second level. The third level is an underbite. The last category includes the most severe cases such as so much overcrowding that teeth must be removed or the need is great for Invisalign or headgear to straighten out teeth and jaws. Fortunately, modern dentistry can work wonders not available even a decade ago.

For jaws, a bite splint is often used. This dental appliance is similar to a mouth guard. It holds the jaw in place to relieve pain and tension. Another favorable option for jaw misalignment is cosmetic dentistry. In many cases, a dentist can reshape the lower teeth and apply veneers to the upper teeth. It doesn’t totally repair the jaw misalignment, but it makes the problem less noticeable and allows the lower teeth to rest behind the upper teeth when the mouth is closed, bringing much-needed relief.

For teeth, Invisalign has come a long way for adults to obtain straight teeth without the unsightly, sparking metal of yesteryear. It is quick, invisible and does not interfere with daily life. Many dentists are now trained in Invisalign with amazing results. And as the teeth straighten, the bite improves, making chewing and even talking much more enjoyable. When treated early, teeth alignment issues are quicker, easier and less expensive to treat. The more tooth crowding there is, the more difficult they are to clean. The result is an increased risk for tooth decay, cavities, and gingivitis (gum disease).

Of course, exceptional circumstances may lead to misalignment. Injuries in the mouth area, especially for youngsters, can cause their future growth to go awry. While most accidents can’t be avoided, those engaged in sports can have added protection. That’s why mouth guards are recommended.

Sometimes dental work can lead to an additional problem. Fillings, crowns and braces can cause the mouth to shift in a growing child…and even in adults. This is yet another reason for regular dental checkups.

If left untreated, malocclusion can affect your oral health leading to TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder), muscle pain, chronic neck and joint pain, headaches, further tooth movement and wear and tear on your teeth. Work with your dentist to create a treatment plan aimed at the relief you need to regain maximum quality of life.

Dr. Shelley Shearer is a graduate of the University of Louisville Dental School and Founder of Shearer Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Florence, the largest all-female dental practice in Northern Kentucky.

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