What Are the 5 Early Warning Signs of Malocclusion?
Spotting signs of malocclusion early to keep your child healthy
Our job as parents is to nurture our children, giving them the love, encouragement, support, and care they need to grow up as healthily and happily as possible. Whether it’s their education or their health, we want the best for our kids. When it comes to our children’s oral health, we often go about this by doing our best to teach our kids great oral hygiene and by keeping an eye out for the development of oral health issues.
Aside from obvious issues like cavities, one to keep an eye out for as your child grows is malocclusion. This is when your child’s teeth or bite is misaligned, and it’s a relatively common issue for children to develop. It’s best to catch malocclusions early because early orthodontic treatments can be used to improve or resolve certain orthodontic issues early. But how do you know if your child has a malocclusion? Here are 5 early warning signs you can look out for, as well as what you can expect from early orthodontic evaluations.
Warning signs of malocclusion you may notice in your child
Some malocclusions are easy to spot just by looking at your child’s smile, but others aren’t so clear—especially while their teeth are still developing. Even if you can’t see visual signs of malocclusion, they impact the function of your child’s bite and jaws. Because of this, they can cause symptoms that you may notice at home, including:
1. Difficulty Eating
A misaligned bite can impact the way your child’s teeth fit together, which can make it difficult and uncomfortable, or even painful, to chew their food effectively. As a result, they may eat less or might not chew their food as well as they should, which can cause issues with digestion for some children.
2. Speech Issues
Similarly, the placement of the jaws and individual teeth are incredibly important for speaking because many sounds are made by using the teeth as a springboard for the tongue. Some children with misalignments have trouble making certain sounds, causing them to develop speech issues such as a lisp.
3. Mouth Breathing
One of the more immediately noticeable signs of malocclusion is mouth breathing, which is when your child habitually breathes through their mouth instead of their nose. Mouth breathing has a range of causes and can lead to several long-term issues, including dry mouth and potentially impacting your child’s sleep patterns or facial development. Additionally, if your child is breathing through their mouth, they tend to develop dry mouth. Since saliva actively helps fight decay, this increases their risk of developing cavities and gingivitis.
4. Jaw Joint Problems
When your child’s jaw is misaligned, it’s held in a position that isn’t ideal. This means that the joints of their jaw can be placed under more stress than they should be, which can lead to issues like muscle tension and soreness, jaw pain, inflammation, and frequent headaches.
5. Tooth Decay or Gingivitis
In some cases, children with malocclusions are also at a higher risk for tooth decay or gingivitis. This can happen in several ways. If individual teeth are crooked, they’re harder to floss and brush thoroughly, even when your child is trying their best with their oral hygiene routine—there are just more nooks and crannies for your child to try and reach, and many young children are still learning.
What your child’s dentist will look for
While it’s important to identify potential orthodontic issues early, it’s equally important to realize that some issues that seem like problems at a young age could self-correct over time as your child’s jaw grows and their adult teeth come in. As a result, Dr. Naik looks at the big picture when she examines your child’s teeth and jaws to determine a treatment plan. She’ll consider not only the type of malocclusion they have, but also the placement, spacing, and size of individual teeth. There are many types of malocclusions, but the main ones are:
- Overbite: The top front teeth stretch too far past the bottom teeth.
- Underbite: The bottom teeth jut out past the top teeth.
- Open Bite: The top and bottom teeth don’t meet the way they should, resulting in a gap where they should overlap slightly.
- Crossbite: One or more pairs of top and bottom teeth don’t fit together properly,
- Overcrowding: There isn’t enough space in the jaw for all of the teeth to develop properly, leading to issues like crooked, overlapping, or impacted teeth.
- Gaps: The gaps between teeth are too wide, which can be the result of natural spacing or baby teeth that were lost too soon or never developed.
When and how these issues can be corrected
Even when orthodontic issues are discovered early, some problems need to wait to be corrected. In these cases, your child will likely go through orthodontic treatment at a more standard age, sometime in their early teens. Even if your child’s orthodontic treatment needs to wait, it’s still worth knowing that issues are present—and what those issues are—as early as possible! It allows you and your dentist to monitor the issues closely as your child grows, gives you the time to plan their treatment, and ensures that you’ll be able to act at the ideal time.
Other problems are best treated early on while your child’s jaws are still growing and the roof of their mouth is still malleable. One prime example of a treatment that is best used early is a palate expander.
Palate expanders take advantage of the fact that the plates at the roof of your child’s mouth haven’t fused together yet. The appliance is secured to the roof of their mouth and applies gentle force over time to widen the gap between these plates, which then grow to fill the new space.
Using palate expanders creates more room in your child’s jaw for their teeth, improving issues like overcrowding, reducing or eliminating the need for more invasive future treatments like tooth extraction. Space maintainers are also often used in early orthodontics to save space for adult teeth when baby teeth either never developed or were lost too soon, helping to ensure that their adult teeth have room to erupt properly. The result is a straighter, more evenly spaced smile.
The type of orthodontic issue your child is suffering from and the severity of their case will determine what treatment they receive and when. Your child may also receive another type of treatment, such as myofunctional or speech therapy, alongside their orthodontic treatment. In the end, though, these methods are designed to resolve signs of malocclusion like jaw pain, difficulty eating, and speech issues, helping your child live a healthier and happier life.
Schedule an early orthodontics appointment today!
Even when your child’s malocclusion isn’t visually noticeable, looking for common signs of malocclusion at home could be a key part of getting your child the best possible care right when they need it. Another key factor is bringing your child in for their first orthodontic evaluation at around seven years old, ensuring that even issues that have gone unnoticed can be spotted—or even predicted before they cause problems! If you’d like to learn more about early orthodontics, or if it’s time for your child to undergo an evaluation with a dentist in Flower Mound Texas, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Naik at any time.