Malocclusion means having crooked teeth or a "poor bite."
Orthodontic treatment can correct the way teeth and jaws line up. Dentists who are specially trained to correct malocclusion are called orthodontists. They use a variety of treatment tools and techniques (including braces) to move teeth, and sometimes the jaw, into the right places.
A common cause of malocclusion is teeth that have too much or too little room in the jaw. If children have a small jaw, their teeth may grow into a space that is too small. As a result, teeth may grow or drift out of place.
Other causes of crooked teeth include thumb-sucking, pacifier use, and tooth loss.
The most obvious sign is teeth that are crooked or stick out. Malocclusion can range from mild to severe. Most of the time, having crooked teeth is only a cosmetic problem, meaning people don't like the way their teeth look. But in severe cases, it can cause problems with eating or speaking.
A dentist usually checks for malocclusion in children during regular dental visits. If the jaw or teeth are out of line, the dentist may suggest a visit to an orthodontist. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children get a checkup with an orthodontist by age 7.
An orthodontist will:
Start your child's trips to the dentist at age 12 months. This will help your child get used to seeing a dentist. It will also catch any early problems. Keep up with regular dental checkups 2 times a year.
In children and teens, the first step in treatment may be to take out certain teeth to make room for teeth that may still grow in.
The next step is to attach braces to teeth to straighten out the bite. In addition to straightening teeth, braces can help move a child's jaw into the right position.
Teeth tend to move forward as you age, even after treatment with braces. Retainers are devices you wear in your mouth to keep your teeth from moving.
Some people need to use retainers for many years after treatment.
Adults can successfully straighten their teeth with braces. But the only way to straighten an adult's jaw is with surgery.
Braces and other types of orthodontic treatment cost a lot. Most insurance plans don't pay for them.
Before you start treatment, make sure you know how much it will cost and how you will pay for it.