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All About the Dental Arch

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

You might be wondering what your dental arch is and how exactly it relates to your dental health. Is there a name for problems that occur with your dental arch? What branch of dentistry treats these problems? You've got questions, and we've got the answers. Keep reading for a crash course in some quick anatomy, what can go wrong, and how to prevent and treat it.

Dental Arches

What is a dental arch? Your dental arch is the curved structure that houses your teeth and consists of the supporting gum and alveolar bone. This arched layout helps ensure a proper shape for your long-term dental health and a proper bite (with the upper teeth slightly in front of your lower teeth).

You have two dental arch types, one upper (also called maxillary) and one lower (also called mandibular). The average adult has 32 permanent teeth, with 16 in their top arch and 16 in their bottom arch.

If your upper and lower teeth do not properly align or fit together in your bite, this is known as a malocclusion. There are three types of malocclusions:

  • Class 1: This describes when upper teeth overlap your lower teeth, and it's the most common type of malocclusion.
  • Class 2: Also known as an overbite, this describes when your upper teeth and bite significantly overlap your bottom teeth.
  • Class 3: Also known as an underbite, this describes when your lower teeth are positioned forward, causing them to overlap with your upper teeth.

Malocclusions have various causes, including:

  • Genetics inherited from your parents (the most common cause)
  • Developmental problems, including cleft palate and cleft lip
  • Thumb sucking and thrusting, or overuse of a bottle or pacifier
  • Poor-fitting dental restorations and appliances
  • Injury to the jaw or mouth
  • Other health conditions

Complications From Malocclusions

According to the University of Michigan Medicine, most malocclusion cases do not cause any problems outside of causing some to be unhappy with the appearance of their smile.

Other problems that can result from a malocclusion may include:

  • Cavities, gum disease, or tooth loss
  • Erosion of your tooth enamel
  • Difficulty eating and speaking
  • Problems with your jaw

Because malocclusions are related to the development of other issues, it's a smart choice to stay ahead of any potential problems and treat any issues before they worsen. We recommend visiting your dental professional at least twice a year (every six months).

Treatment for Malocclusions

The specialty in dentistry that addresses and treat malocclusions is known as orthodontics, which orthodontists practice. Treating malocclusions typically requires orthodontic solutions, like braces or other appliances.

If you believe you have a problem with your dental arch or malocclusion, it’s a great idea to schedule a visit with your dental professional for their expert insight and guidance. Because there are so many types and causes of malocclusion, there’s no single magic bullet solution. The best choice for you will depend on your health history, desired appearance, budget, and associated risks.

According to the American Dental Association, while adult treatment is common, orthodontic irregularities often become noticeable between the ages of six and 12. Treatment typically initiates between the ages of eight and 14 and lasts between one and three years on average.

Your oral health heavily relies on having a properly aligned dental arch and bite. If you experience a problem with your arch known as malocclusion, your dental professional is well-equipped to assist you with orthodontic treatment. You've made a great choice to educate yourself on this anatomical feature and the potentially related issues.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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