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Understanding “Occlusion” and How It Might Impact Your Oral Health

Understanding “Occlusion” and How It Might Impact Your Oral Health

Over the past decade, “occlusion” has emerged as an important component of dentistry. In fact, many dentists now consider healthy occlusion to be as important to the maintenance of dental health as preventing tooth decay and/or gum disease. Some dentists even believe that occlusion should serve as the underlying base for all dental treatment in general.

If you’ve never heard of the term it’s probably because a relatively small percentage of dental practices have given occlusion an appropriate amount of focus and attention. This is fast changing, though, as the dental field has recently been resolving competing philosophies about occlusion and pushing for greater inclusion of the subject. 

So, What is Occlusion?

The narrow definition of occlusion refers to the alignment of teeth and the manner in which the upper and lower teeth come together. A broader definition accounts for the entire functional relationships among all components of the masticatory system, which brings in consideration of the neuromuscular system, temporomandibular joints (TMJs), and cranial skeleton.  

Whether by dint of the narrow or broad definition, problems relating to occlusion can significantly impact oral health. Such problems are typically referred to as “occlusal disease,” “malocclusion,” or the more simple layman’s term of “bad bite.” Some bad bites—like crossbites, overbites, and open bites—may be obvious to both the patient and dentist. But some cases are not easy to discern, which means that the malocclusion may be stealthily damaging teeth and underlying tissues.   

Occlusion plays a significant role in oral health because the jaw and its muscles generate incredible force with every bite. If this force is not spread out and distributed evenly it can cause serious and possibly irreversible damage to the teeth, gums, jaw muscles and bone structure. Because the field of dentistry has been placing more emphasis on understanding occlusion of late, some dental professionals are starting to believe that occlusal disease may be as detrimental to oral health as tooth decay and periodontal disease. In fact, it may be the most common dental disorder because it is the least diagnosed.

Occlusal Disease Symptoms

Absent obvious visual signs of bad bite, the following symptoms may be indicative of potential  occlusal disease:

  • Wear on the biting surface of the teeth, most apparent when front teeth start looking smaller than back teeth.
  • Popping or clicking sounds from the jaw joints during eating or other jaw movement, sometimes accompanied by pain.
  • Teeth sensitivity, especially in reaction to temperature changes.
  • Notches in the teeth at or below the gum line.
  • Tooth soreness when biting.
  • Teeth breakage or cracking.
  • Facial pain or headaches.
  • Sore jaw muscles.
  • Recessive gums.
  • Loose teeth.

Note that while occlusion is a natural condition of everyone’s mouth, one’s occlusion may change due to dental work or even just naturally over time. Thus, consult with your dentist if you experience any of the above symptoms in the wake of recent dental work and/or if they just emerge over time.

Learn More About Occlusion at Island Tower Dentistry

Island Tower Dentistry’s Dr. Jonathan Van Dyke has long considered occlusion to be an important component of his patient’s oral health. As such, he offers his Marco Island, Florida-area patients the latest in occlusal analysis technology. T-Scan™ uses high-tech pressure mapping, force measurement, and tactile sensors to diagnose potential occlusion disease conditions and to monitor the ongoing occlusal health of patients. To learn more, contact Island Tower Dentistry today at 239-394-1004 to make an appointment!

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