Incorrect jaw alignment, or malocclusion, can have an enormous impact on overall health. Most noticeably, it can affect facial shape or appearance, but it can also result in facial and jaw pain, a clicking or popping jaw, or difficulty chewing, swallowing, and yawning. Other problems may include speech issues such as lisps or “mouth breathing” – failing to close the lips while breathing. And jaw problems can also have even more far-reaching effects. Jaw misalignment can affect the entire head and even cause neck and shoulder pain. Some symptoms that you might not immediately associate with malocclusion include headaches and migraines, dizziness, tooth sensitivity, and even tinnitus – ringing in the ears.
Malocclusion is often hereditary, but it can have other causes. Extra, missing, or impacted teeth can all affect the shape and alignment of the jaw. Jaw trauma and disease as well as the removal of wisdom teeth can also alter jaw alignment.
When the upper and lower jaws do not align correctly, this can create stress on the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. Because the TMJ is located at the junction of the lower jaw and the skull, pain can radiate outward, affecting the entire head and beyond. Problems with the TMJ are classified as TMD (temporomandibular disorder) and symptoms are often attributed to stress and undiagnosed.
If you feel like you are suffering from any of the symptoms associated with TMD, it is worth discussing your concerns with your dentist. Dentists can examine jaw movement, take X-rays of your mouth and jaw, and evaluate your medical and dental history for signs that TMD is the root of your problem. Corrective treatments can range from surgery to appliances designed to correct an overbite or an underbite. Your dentist will be able to guide you and suggest the proper course of action to take. It could be that some minor adjustments could mean a world of difference in your overall health.