As humans today are almost identical to our ancestors who possessed straight teeth, then it is fairly safe to assume that poor teeth alignment must be partly hereditary. Some individuals believe that this change occurred during the Industrial Revolution, when culture shifted from largely rural based to more manufacturing based. After the Industrial Revolution, individuals changed from a relatively natural diet to one featuring more processed foods. It is likely that a softer diet thus impeded normal jaw growth as less jaw strength was needed.
The introduction of the modern baby bottle in the mid-1800s may also have played a role. This is because it reduced the amount of breastfeeding and research shows that the muscles used by babies when feeding from the breast are not used as extensively when feeding from a bottle. Furthermore, dental experts have discovered that breastfed babies have better teeth alignment then those who were not.
Causes of poor teeth alignment
While poor teeth alignment can be in part attributed to hereditary reasons, it does not always happen purely due to genetics.
There are several factors which may lead to undeveloped jaws and poor teeth alignment, including:
- Tongue thrusting
- Sucking your thumb
- Using pacifiers for significant period of time
- Breathing through the mouth rather than the nose
- Maintaining an open mouth for a significant period of time
- Tumours around the mouth or jaw
Tongue thrusting can be especially damaging to teeth, and occurs when the tongue pushes forward, and the lips push back when swallowing. As a child swallows a couple times a minute, this can occur frequently and thus over time can cause issues such as open bite. Additionally long periods of breathing through the mouth can cause the tongue to not rest in the proper position on the roof of the mouth. In turn this causes the jaw to develop incorrectly and restrict the airway further. An undeveloped jaw may also lead to a mouth of crowded teeth, and since orthodontic work does not usually commence until all permanent teeth erupt, teeth might be pulled.
How can poor teeth alignment affect me?
Poor teeth alignment can come in three different classes, known as malocclusions. It’s important to note that although they are referred to as malocclusion – each subtype is just a variation of a ‘normal’ bite. These are:
- A class 1 malocclusion occurs when the upper teeth are marginally overlapping the lower teeth, however the bite remains normal.
- A class 2 malocclusion occurs when the upper teeth &jaw is significantly further forwards in comparison to the lower jaw. This is called increased overjet. If the uppers are overlapping the lower teeth & jaw, this can also be referred to as an overbite.
- A class 3 malocclusion occurs when the lower teeth projects ahead of the front part of the upper teeth when the jaw is shut. This can also be referred to as an underbite and can cause discomfort when chewing and potentially lead to temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
Poor teeth alignment not only can cause discomfort and strain the jaw, but it can also increase the risk of a tooth breaking. Protruding teeth may also rub against adjacent teeth and cause your teeth to wear away. Moreover, cleaning teeth with poor alignment is also extremely difficult, which can allow cavities and potential further issues. For example, there is an increased likelihood of bacteria going into gum pockets causing gum disease. If left untreated, it may enter the bloodstream and cause heart disease, diabetes, or stroke.
In summary, while it is understood that there are some hereditary causes for tooth alignment, much is still unknown about these connections. Subsequently, it is best to deal with the other aforementioned factors which can significantly contribute to poor jaw growth, and subsequently lead to misaligned teeth and potential jaw development. These factors can be dealt with through regular dental appointments, dental treatments, and changes to oral habits.