A healthy bite is important for many reasons. Our population today is living longer than generations before. As we age into our 70's, 80's and 90's simple activities that we take for granted become difficult. Imagine not being able to appreciate one of life's simple pleasures like enjoying a meal. Or perhaps you are suffering from many of the symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) such as migraines, jaw clicking or popping, vertigo, ear congestion, or jaw pain. Years of grinding your teeth can wear them down so severely that eating becomes a challenge. Grinding and clenching your teeth is also a common cause of teeth cracking and breaking off, leading to tooth loss and missing teeth. And in addition to the associated painful consequences, the esthetics of a damaged smile are not very desirable.
How does this damage to the teeth and jaw joints occur? Our teeth come together several thousand times a day. Besides chewing, it is normal for our teeth to touch when swallowing as well. People who clench and grind their teeth during the day or night hasten the wear of their teeth as well.
Because the body knows when the teeth are going to come together again to swallow, grind, clench, or chew, the surrounding muscles hold the lower jaw or mandible close to where the teeth are going to come together in an effort to conserve the body’s energy. Teeth commonly come together in the same place each time a person bites together. This is called muscle proprioception. Holding the jaw and biting in a retruded position causes the muscles of the jaw and neck to spasm, creating common symptoms such as headache, jaw pain and ear issues.
As the front and back teeth wear down and become shorter, the temporomandiblular joints (TMJ) become more compressed forcing the jaw back. The retruded mandible compresses the disc that's located in the joint forcing it out of place and causing damage each time you bite down. Joint noise is a common sign that this is occurring. Jaw joints that are retruded and compressed often times force the tongue into a retruded position, blocking the airway and making a person more likely to suffer from snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
Another sign of a compromised bite are changes in your facial features. As teeth wear and shorten, the lower third of the face and jaw become compressed and shortened. This leads to more pronounced jowls, lines and wrinkles.
There are a variety of treatments for an unhealthy bite. They may involve a nightguard to protect the teeth from grinding while sleeping, a physiologic orthotic to place the jaw in its correct position, orthodontics to expand and develop the upper and lower arches, or restorations such as crowns and veneers to return your teeth to their original size and shape. Patients that have had their teeth and jaws treated to their correct physiologic position typically do not grind their teeth anymore. In any case, treatment begins with a phone call to schedule a thorough exam of your teeth and jaw.