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Recognizing and Treating a Child’s Misaligned Jaw

May 14, 2019
Recognizing and Treating a Child’s Misaligned Jaw

What is a misaligned jaw (malocclusion)?

When a child has malocclusion, his or her upper and lower teeth do not come together correctly upon closing the mouth. For example, if a child’s upper teeth stick out farther than his or her lower teeth do, this is referred to as an ‘overbite.’ When the lower teeth jut out ahead of the upper, this is called an ‘underbite.’

What are the symptoms of a misaligned jaw?

The symptoms of malocclusion can vary, with some being complex. The impact these symptoms have on a child are physical, but, due to the way this condition affects so many areas of a child’s life, they are also emotional. Although problems vary from one child to the next and depend on how severe the condition is, experts have identified three issues that most children with this condition face.

These 3 issues include:

  1. Abnormal breathing — when the jaw is not aligned correctly, a child may be forced to breathe through the mouth, which can lead to other health problems.
  2. Trouble chewing — misalignment makes the jaws crash into one another as a child chews. This causes pain and discomfort while chewing.
  3. An odd facial structure — when the jaw is misaligned, the child’s facial structure is negatively affected. Many of the children with malocclusion used pacifiers for an extended period or had a habit of sucking their thumbs. Unfortunately, a misaligned jaw can make a child feel self-conscious.

Other symptoms of a misaligned jaw:

  • Trouble speaking and sleeping.
  • Discomfort, even while the jaw is at rest.
  • Difficulty opening the mouth all the way.
  • A clicking or popping of the temporomandibular joint.
  • Jaw tenderness.
  • Continuous aching in the face.
  • Pain in and/or around the ear.
  • Locking of the jaw, making it hard to open and/or close the mouth.

These issues are difficult to live with; however, technological advancements are allowing orthodontists to successfully correct misaligned jaws.

One potential complication of malocclusion is temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).

TMJ is a painful, potentially lifelong condition that can affect several areas of a child’s life.

What is the temporomandibular joint?

The temporomandibular joint is located where the base of the skull and lower jaw meet. The ligaments and muscles that surround the joint work together, allowing movement.

The health of these muscles and ligaments, as well as the health and position of a child’s teeth, contributes to the proper alignment and correct functioning of the temporomandibular joint.

Symptoms of TMJ:

  • Problems opening and closing the mouth.
  • Ringing in the ear.
  • Ear pain.
  • Jaw pain.
  • Headaches.
  • Jaw fatigue.
  • An uneven jaw opening.
  • Inflammation around the temporomandibular joint.
  • A jaw that gets stuck (locks).
  • Painful clicking or popping of the temporomandibular joint.
  • Uneven jaw movements (vertical or lateral).
  • A tender temporomandibular joint that hurts when touched.

Treating TMJ.

The treatment recommended depends on how severe the TMJ is. However, potential treatments include jaw exercises, physical therapy, medications, injections into the joint and/or surgical intervention.

Outlook for a child with TMJ.

A child with mild symptoms of TMJ typically does well with anti-inflammatory medications and home care. More severe symptoms may require dental treatments, physical therapy or joint surgery.

Recognizing a misaligned jaw.

Although most parents realize the importance of taking their child for an orthodontic evaluation once they turn 7 years of age, they may not know the signs indicating that immediate orthodontic attention is necessary. By identifying issues in the early stages, a treatment plan can be prepared and implemented in the near future.

5 warning signs that your child needs to see an orthodontist, even though he or she is under the age of 7:

  1. Crowded or crooked teeth.
  2. Frequently having an open mouth.
  3. Abnormal jaw growth, malocclusion.
  4. An unusual jaw structure or bite.
  5. A prolonged thumb-sucking habit (6 years of age and older).

Treating a misaligned jaw.

Correcting bad habits (e.g., teeth grinding, chewing gum, etc.) — if your child has bruxism and grinds his or her teeth while asleep, there are mouth guards available to help prevent the grinding.

Potential treatments include:

  • Braces — many times, orthodontic braces can help with proper alignment. Braces can gradually move the teeth into their proper locations. Traditional metal braces consist of cement brackets connected to the teeth and then to one another using wire. Over the period of one to three years, the wires will be tightened.
  • Headgear braces — if the misalignment cannot be addressed with traditional braces, headgear braces may be recommended. Retraction headgear is designed to move the upper jaw backward; whereas, protraction headgear moves it forward. These braces are typically worn 12 to 14 hours a day.
  • A reverse pull face mask — this device is designed to correct an underbite. The reverse pull face mask is worn overnight. Metal braces are affixed to the upper back teeth. These are then attached to a face mask that wraps around the head, pulling the upper jaw backward.
  • An upper jaw expander — to correct an underbite, this wire framed device fits across the patient’s upper palate. Every night, a special key is used to widen the expander.
  • Surgical intervention — if the misalignment is severe, fixed plates, wires and screws may need to be used. Surgery is always the last resort and only recommended when a child’s misaligned jaw is affecting his or her everyday functions (e.g., speaking, sleeping and eating, etc.).

Helping your child care for his or her teeth during orthodontic treatment.

During treatment, helping your child care for his or her teeth is just as important as before; however, it may be a bit more challenging. As before, your child should brush twice daily with a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Flossing (or using a Waterpik®, water flosser) at least once a day is his or her best chance at having a healthy, cavity-free mouth once treatment is complete.

Although jaw misalignment can be serious, an experienced orthodontist can permanently fix the problem. With the numerous treatment options available, having a jaw that aligns well can be accomplished. Talk to one of the orthodontists at DocBraces to see which treatment option for a misaligned jaw is best for your child.

Why Docbraces?

At Docbraces, we are committed to providing families with state-of-the-art facilities and innovative dental solutions using the most recent advancements available. Our patients can count on receiving high-quality orthodontic care from experienced professionals who are dedicated to helping them attain the smile they have always wanted.

We offer flexible appointment times, family discounts, a rewards hub incentive program and a T-Link online patient portal. We know that each patient is unique, which is why we provide every patient with an individualized orthodontic treatment plan designed to meet his or her dental and aesthetic goals.

We have facilities located in Ontario and throughout the Maritime provinces. Each new patient receives a free initial consultation or second opinion. To schedule your complimentary consultation, please call 1-866-639-7695. If you would prefer to contact us online, please click here.

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