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Malocclusion in Children

What is malocclusion in children?

Malocclusion is when a child’s teeth become crooked or crowded. The child may also have a problem with his or her bite. That means the teeth of the upper jaw don’t meet normally with the teeth of the lower jaw when the jaw is closed.

How to say it

mal-oh-KLOO-zuhn

What causes malocclusion in a child?

Malocclusion can sometimes be caused by an injury to the jaw. But it’s often the result of many different things. It may be from genes, the environment, or both. Malocclusion can develop as a child grows.

Which children are at risk for malocclusion?

Children who suck their thumbs or fingers beyond the age of 5 have a greater chance of developing malocclusion. Children with a very small space between their baby teeth are at risk too. They may have problems with malocclusion when their permanent teeth come in. This is because the permanent teeth are larger and need more space.

What are the symptoms of malocclusion in a child?

A child with malocclusion has crowded or crooked teeth. He or she may also have one of these bite problems:

  • Overbite. The front teeth in the upper jaw stick out over the teeth in the lower jaw.
  • Underbite. The teeth in the lower jaw stick out over the teeth in the upper jaw.
  • Open bite. The front teeth don’t meet when the jaw is closed.
  • Crossbite. The top teeth sit behind the bottom teeth.

Malocclusion may cause a child to have:

  • Problems eating or speaking
  • Teeth grinding
  • Loss of baby teeth too soon or very late
  • Mouth breathing
  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Jaw joint problems

How is malocclusion diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider can often diagnose malocclusion with a complete health history and physical exam of your child. He or she will likely refer your child to a dentist or an orthodontist for full evaluation and treatment. Orthodontists are specially trained dentists. They treat the irregularities of the teeth, bite, and jaws.

Your child may also need:

  • X-rays. This test makes images of internal tissues, bones, and teeth.
  • Impressions of the teeth. These are imprints of the teeth made with plaster poured in a mold. They help evaluate the malocclusion.

There is no specific system to say how much misalignment is too much. Your child’s orthodontist will decide if your child’s bite needs to be fixed.

How is malocclusion treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

The goal of treatment is to straighten the teeth and improve the look of your child’s smile. Treatment is sometimes done in phases depending on the extent of the malocclusion. It may include:

  • Tooth removal. Your child’s baby teeth may need to be taken out to make room for the permanent teeth. Certain permanent teeth may also be removed.
  • Jaw surgery. In some cases, your child may need jaw surgery to fix the bite problem when the bones are involved.
  • Mouth appliances. These may be removable (a retainer). Or they may be fixed (braces). A retainer is made of wires and plastic. It can be inserted and removed. It must be cleaned on a regular basis. Braces are small brackets attached to the teeth. They are connected with a wire. By tightening the wire periodically, the orthodontist is able to slowly straighten the teeth over time.

If your child needs a mouth appliance, he or she may need to restrict some activities. Discuss this with your child’s dentist or orthodontist. Your child should not eat the following foods while wearing any type of mouth appliance:

  • Gum
  • Sticky foods
  • Peanuts or other nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Ice

Key points about malocclusion in children

  • Malocclusion is when a child’s teeth are crooked or crowded. The child may also have a problem with his or her bite.
  • Many different things often contribute to malocclusion, such as genes.
  • Children older than age 5 who suck their fingers are more at risk for it.
  • Malocclusion may cause trouble eating, breathing, and speaking. Some children may also have gum disease and jaw joint problems.
  • X-rays and impressions of the teeth can help diagnose malocclusion.
  • Treatment may include tooth removal and a mouth appliance.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Kapner, Michael, DDS
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2016
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