How to Tell if Your Teeth Are Misaligned

How to Tell if Your Teeth Are Misaligned
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How to Tell if Your Teeth Are MisalignedClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. A Common Problem
  2. What Is Misalignment
  3. Signs & Symptoms
  4. Improving Your Oral Health
  5. References

If your teeth are misaligned, they likely look crooked, twisted, or spaced. You may have speech issues, such as a lisp, or you may experience tooth or jaw pain.

Misaligned teeth can also cause an abnormal face shape and make it difficult to close your mouth. If you are a chronic mouth breather, you may have misaligned teeth.

A Common Problem

If you have seen more advertisements for companies offering clear aligners that come in the mail, you may understand how common it is for people to have misaligned teeth. This is such a common problem that causes a lot of American adults to seek some form of smile improvement or even cosmetic adjustments or surgery.

Even if you had braces or a retainer as a child, your teeth are likely to shift in adulthood, which can create an appearance in your smile that you dislike. You could experience other oral health problems, even if you do not have an evident misalignment in photos.

signs your teeth are misaligned

What Is Misalignment?

The medical term for misaligned teeth is dental malocclusion. This term specifically means that the teeth do not properly or completely fit together, specifically in the way the upper and lower jaws fit together. Malocclusion can also refer to crowded or spaced-out teeth, which can change how the other teeth fit together, causing misalignment.

There are three basic types of malocclusion.

  1. Class 1: This is the most common, and it is hard to notice. The upper teeth protrude slightly over the lower jaw.
  2. Class 2: This is an overbite, which is also fairly common. The upper teeth and/or jaw severely and noticeably overlap the lower teeth and jaw.
  3. Class 3: This is an underbite, characterized by a lower jaw that juts forward, so the lower teeth protrude past the upper teeth and jaw.

Causes of Misalignment

There are many reasons for misaligned teeth, including heredity and personal habits. Genetics is the most common cause. If your parents had misaligned teeth, then you are likely to as well. Jaw and tooth shape can be influenced by genetics.

Other causes of misalignment include:

  • Childhood habits like thumb sucking.
  • Tongue thrusting, or pushing your tongue against your teeth rather than the roof of your mouth.
  • Impacted teeth, crowding from wisdom teeth, and abnormally shaped teeth.
  • Poor dental fillings or missing teeth.
  • Accidents that cause dental misalignment.
  • Poorly fitting oral appliances like braces, aligners, retainers, or bite guards.
  • One jaw is too small to fit the other jaw, so teeth become misaligned.
  • Tumors in the mouth or jaw.
  • Mouth breathing which may alter your jaw development and increase the likelihood of dental misalignment.
You may not notice if your teeth are misaligned, but you may struggle with cavities, off-white teeth, face or jaw pain, and other oral health problems.

Signs & Symptoms of Misaligned Teeth

You may notice that you have misaligned teeth, especially as you get older, if your teeth begin to shift and appear out of place, even if you have already had braces, clear aligners, or a retainer.

In some cases, you may not notice these problems or not consider them cosmetic problems, but you may have other symptoms that are associated with misaligned teeth that can cause other issues. These include:

  1. Difficulty biting into food and chewing.
  2. An abnormal face shape or appearance.
  3. Pain in the jaw, neck, or ear.
  4. Grinding or clenching the teeth, causing wear and damage.
  5. Consistent cavities that require filling.
  6. Sensitivity or pain in the teeth or gums.
  7. Overall poor oral health due to faster build-up of plaque.
  8. Speech difficulties, including a lisp.
  9. Mouth breathing or difficulty holding the lips together.

These symptoms of misaligned teeth can also make misalignment worse over time. For example, if you develop gingivitis, an infection in your gums, this can cause changes in your gums leading to periodontitis. This can damage the roots of your teeth, causing them to move and create an alignment structure that is harder to clean, contributing to further oral infection.

Malnutrition, tongue thrusting, and damage from trauma can also be both symptoms and causes of misaligned teeth.

If you have a slight malocclusion or misalignment that you do not notice, but is causing other problems including poor oral health, your dentist should find this issue on a routine exam. It is important to get regular dental check-ups to notice these changes or potential issues so they can be corrected.

Ignoring serious misalignments can lead to needing braces or clear aligners for longer. It can also require oral surgery to remove teeth, realign your jaw, or reshape irregular or damaged teeth.

To properly diagnose whether your teeth are misaligned, your dentist will conduct a full oral examination, including x-rays. They may make an impression of your teeth and jaws, to understand better how they fit together.

They may also take scans of your teeth with special equipment to create aligners and design braces or other devices to fit your mouth and improve the alignment of your teeth. In some cases, you may need devices or surgery to adjust your jaw, which improves the alignment of your teeth.

It is very common for adults to need to return to some type of braces or aligners to manage misaligned teeth. As dental medicine gets better, there are more options than ever for improving your smile and oral health, including clear aligners, some which are available through the mail; ceramic or white braces; permanent retainers or mouth guards worn at night; and more options.

Get Help Improving Your Oral Health

Having properly aligned teeth is not just about having a perfect smile; it’s also about keeping your mouth as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Misalignment can cause pain, tooth damage, oral infections, cavities, and even muscle pain in the jaw, face, and neck.

Rather than suffering through problems due to misaligned teeth, you can work to correct these issues if they are causing damage to your oral health. One of the simplest, least expensive methods for realigning teeth are clear aligners, which are not noticeable and typically do not require long-term use.

References

Malocclusion of Teeth. (April 2021). MedlinePlus. Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

What Causes Crooked Teeth? Colgate. Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

Malocclusion (Misaligned Teeth). (June 2020). Merck Manuals, Consumer Version. Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

Misaligned Teeth and Jaws: Overview. (January 2020). Informed Health. Date fetched: April 28, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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