The perfect smile is like a completed jigsaw puzzle. When all the parts fit together as they should, the result is a set of pearly whites. The dental arch is one structure in the mouth that's key in shaping a beautiful smile. But if a person's bite pattern is misaligned, orthodontics may be the solution to achieving aligned and straight teeth.
The mouth has two curved arches: the upper (maxilla) and the lower (mandible). These arches house the teeth. An adult has 32 permanent teeth divided evenly between the upper and lower jaws. There are four types of teeth:
The four front upper and lower teeth that cut food and aid in speech.
The pointed teeth (sometimes referred to as cuspids) that tear food.
The teeth with two-pointed cusps (points) on the biting surface that tear and crush food.
The back teeth with multiple cusps that grind food.
Malocclusions and Types
The teeth in a dental arch are aligned correctly when the upper teeth sit just slightly in front of the lower teeth. The cusps on each molar fit the grooves of the corresponding molar directly above or below. When the teeth don't fit together properly, it's called a malocclusion, according to the National Institutes of Health.
There are three types of malocclusions:
Class 1The upper teeth slightly overlap the lower teeth, but the bite is normal. This is the most common type of malocclusion.
Class 2An overbite — also called a retrognathism — happens when the upper jaw and teeth severely overlap the lower jaw and teeth.
Class 3An underbite — also called a prognathism — happens when the lower jaw and teeth protrude beyond the upper jaw and teeth.
Malocclusions can be caused by a variety of factors, including missing or extra teeth, genetic conditions, thumb sucking or pacifier use, jaw injuries and mouth tumors.
Oral Problems Resulting From Malocclusions
The National Institutes of Health explains that malocclusions can cause a number of problems. A person with bite problems might breathe through their mouth without closing their lips. They might also have difficulties speaking, chewing or biting into food.
Correcting a malocclusion may decrease the risk of tooth decay, gingivitis and periodontitis and reduce strain on the teeth and jaw muscles. It may also reduce the possibility of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems later on. If your bite is out of alignment, rest assured that you have a variety of treatment options available to you.
Braces to the Rescue
One of the main ways to correct a dental arch alignment problem is through braces. Traditional braces realign teeth using gradual pressure according to the American Dental Association. Tiny brackets are cemented to your teeth. Those brackets are all connected by a wire. An orthodontist tightens that wire to create pressure and slowly shift the teeth that need correcting.
There are many more options for braces today than there were in years past. Children and teenagers are more likely to end up with braces since bite abnormalities often arise during those years, but adults can also undergo orthodontic treatment. Braces can be worn on the front of the teeth or behind the teeth.
Just like any other part of the body, dental arches come in a range of shapes and sizes. If you're concerned that your dental arch might be out of alignment, consult your dentist or an orthodontist.