Table of Content
Jaw Misalignment: Signs + How to Maximize Comfort
by Dylan Hao |
Until you’re dealing with the problem firsthand, you probably don’t realize that crooked jaws are a thing — and a painful thing, at that!
Your jaw is made of two parts: the upper (maxilla) and lower (mandible). When the two aren’t aligned, you have an uneven jaw.
This jaw misalignment is usually due to trauma, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs), or an unresolved dental issue. The cause of the misalignment (or malocclusion) determines the treatment that fixes it.
But if it’s not obvious, how do you know if your jaw is crooked? In this blog, we’ll discuss the signs of jaw misalignment, what to do if you have one, and how to maximize comfort while awaiting treatment.
Signs Your Jaw May Be Uneven
It might sound like it would be obvious, but that’s not always the case for a crooked jaw. Since we all have uniquely shaped facial structures, it can be easy to hide a slight misalignment unless you look closely or notice the symptoms.
By the time this shift in your jaw becomes severe, it can affect your ability to talk, chew, and breathe. The misalignment is also evident to others at that point, often affecting self-esteem.
Warning Signs of a Misaligned Jaw
Understandably, you don’t want your shifting jaw to reach that point, so how can you tell if you have a malocclusion in progress?
Well, the symptoms and signs depend on the severity of the misalignment. Unless there was an obvious trauma to your facial area, the changes are gradual and easy to miss in the early stages.
Still, there are some red flags you should pay attention to if you think your jaw may be shifting, such as:
- Pain in your temple region — Not quite a headache, but an unignorable discomfort
- Headaches — Unexplained headaches can still appear as well.
- Pain in the shoulders and/or back — These muscles are connected to the jaw muscles.
- Bruxism — Teeth grinding and clenching
- Clicking or popping — When you move your mouth
- Ringing or buzzing — Sounds in the ear with no external source
- Tightness and pain — In the jaw
- Signs of gum disease — Such as bleeding or receding gums and sensitive teeth
A combination of these symptoms could be your body’s way of warning you that there’s an underlying issue with your jaw. Now that you’re aware of it, the next step is to pinpoint what’s causing the shift.
Causes of Jaw Misalignment
It might surprise you to learn that jaw misalignments are more prevalent than you think. In fact, they can occur naturally in nearly half the population.
These malocclusions occur at any stage in life, from birth through geriatrics:
- Congenital malocclusions — Birth defects show up while the child develops.
- Acquired malocclusions — Traumas happen at any age from accidents and impacts.
Gradual shifts from mild internal changes become significant misalignments if not addressed. Here, we’ll discuss the most common causes of jaw misalignments.
Your mandible and skull are connected via a delicate hinge called the temporomandibular joint, better known as the TMJ. When this joint or the ligaments and muscles connected to it become damaged, the result is a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
TMDs cause pain, inflammation, and other problems in the facial area, neck, shoulders, and back. These conditions stem from multiple sources, including:
- Misaligned bites
Over time, TMDs can cause the jaw to shift and become uneven. Working with a TMJ specialist may be necessary if your symptoms worsen or don’t go away within a few weeks. However, many people find that using a custom-fit night guard, like those we create at JS Dental Lab, is often enough to catch the problem early and keep it from getting worse.
A professionally designed night guard slides over the top or bottom arch of your teeth while you sleep. It prevents the teeth and jaw from getting traction, so they can’t clench or grind, forcing your muscles and joints to relax, which gives them time to heal.
While TMJ disorders occur over time, congenital malocclusions exist as early as birth. Because babies rarely have teeth that early, these jaw birth defects don’t show up until the child begins to show signs of development.
Conditions that affect facial symmetry (evenness on both sides) cause the jawbones to develop irregularly. When one side of the face is a different size than the other, it can lead to misshapenness, malocclusions, chin asymmetries, and an asymmetrical smile, all of which are affected by the jaw’s uneven development. In severe instances, these irregularities may cause obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), cleft palate, or Pierre-Robin Syndrome, a condition where the mandible is under-formed.
Misaligned Teeth (Malocclusions)
A child’s baby teeth may be perfectly aligned, but when their adult ones grow in, there’s a malocclusion. What happened?
Malocclusions are misalignments between the upper and lower teeth. These may be seen as early as baby teeth or show up later in life. They are often caused by a crooked jaw but can also:
- Be inherited
- Come from the overuse of pacifiers or long-term thumb sucking
- Show up as the result of an impacted tooth
Misaligned teeth also happen when there’s a missing tooth, and the remaining teeth shift to fill that gap. On the opposite side of that, extra teeth occur occasionally, and the other teeth must move to make room for those over-crowders.
Other causes of malocclusions include dental appliances that weren’t fit correctly, trauma, tumors, and malformed teeth.
Malocclusions are broken into three categories:
- Class I — The bite is correct, but alignment issues keep your teeth from fitting correctly.
- Class II — The “overbite” category, where the upper teeth overlap the bottom set, creating an open bite
- Class III — The opposite of Class II, where the lower teeth protrude in front of the upper set (underbite)
Each of these classes can lead to an uneven jaw. But for most of us, it’s possible to treat the condition to keep it from worsening and — possibly — readjust the misalignment entirely.
Diagnosing and Treating Your Crooked Jaw
In the early stages of jaw misalignment, you probably won’t even notice the issue. Until your dentist or orthodontist suspects you have a misaligned jaw, you wouldn’t have thought anything was out of the ordinary.
Verifying their suspicions is as simple as ordering and reviewing an x-ray of the area. You may need to visit an orthodontist, who will examine your teeth and how you open and close your mouth. They’ll likely make a plaster model of your teeth to check for misalignments.
From there, the determined treatment depends on the misalignment's severity, the patient's age, and the cause of the crooked jaw.
Treating Misaligned Jaws
In some cases, a misaligned jaw fixes itself. But most of the time, you’ll need a combination of treatments, such as orthodontics, dental restorations or fixes, and night guards or aligners.
Mild Treatment: Dental Appliances
If you have a minor shift caused by bruxism, the specialist may suggest wearing a night guard. You can have one made there, or get the same high-quality professional oral appliance through our mail-order services at JS Dental Lab at a fraction of the cost.
Uneven jaws due to malocclusions need a little more semi-permanent help through orthodontic treatment, like braces, retainers, dental bridges, or splints.
These appliances are worn over or behind the teeth 24/7 for a prescribed period. They put pressure on the crooked teeth and jaw joint to encourage them to shift into a better alignment.
Moderate Treatment: Specialist Care
When uneven jaw issues are caused by dental conditions such as overcrowding or misshapen teeth, your dentist can offer solutions.
The treatments available will depend on your medical and dental health. However, dentistry procedures include reshaping or resurfacing irregular teeth to correct the problem or extracting teeth that cause overcrowding.
More moderate cases of TMDs require TMJ specialists to help reduce the effects. With the assistance of a TMD doctor, you will learn how to:
- Adjust your movements to avoid pain.
- Change your lifestyle habits to prevent further damage.
- Practice stretches and exercises to create a healthier overall jaw.
Severe Cases: Surgical Procedures
When the uneven jaw causes significant problems like breathing trouble or is severely misshapen, jaw surgery may be necessary.
There are different surgical procedures ranging in intensity to address various misalignments, such as:
- Jaw wiring — Provide stability for broken jaws or reposition the jaw to its correct placement.
- Maxillary osteotomy — Fix open or cross bites by moving the upper teeth and jaw so that they align with the lower versions.
- Mandibular osteotomy — Fix overbites or protruding lower jaws by adjusting parts of the mouth to shift the jaw correctly.
- Genioplasty — Fix the crooked chin through a reconstruction process.
While surgery is an option if necessary, most cases of jaw misalignment can be corrected or treated through more conservative measures. In the meantime, while you’re waiting for the treatment to work, you can focus on finding ways to reduce or prevent discomfort.
Maximizing Comfort When Your Jaw Hurts
Now you know what could be causing your misaligned jaw and the various treatment options available to correct it. Until the problem is resolved, though, it’s common to feel anything from mild discomfort to severe pain when your jaw is out of alignment.
The thing about jaw pain versus other types of bodily aches is that you can’t always avoid using your mouth. You chew, talk, swallow, yawn, and laugh, and it affects the joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons attached to the jaw.
So what’s a person to do when even minor movements cause pain?
Avoidance is, of course, the key. You can minimize jaw pain by eating soft foods and staying away from any chewy, sticky, or hard foods that you have difficulty chewing. Focus on caring for your oral health with proper oral hygiene habits in order to reduce the progression of tooth decay and gum damage that might stem from your uneven jaw.
But unless you put yourself in a bubble, you can’t prevent moving your jaw forever!
When pain hits, it’s challenging to go through your regular daily activities. To get rid of the discomfort quickly, try these home and conservative remedies:
- Use an ice pack to numb the area and relieve the pain sensation.
- Hot packs can relax muscle tightness, which also reduces pain.
- Keep over-the-counter pain medication on hand when fast relief is essential.
- Talk to your doctor about prescription medications such as muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories if OTC meds don’t help.
- Practice jaw stretches and exercises to strengthen the area. Your TMJ specialist or physical therapist can give you information on stretches that are best for your condition.
- Try acupuncture or massage therapy sessions.
Dealing with jaw issues is a 24/7/365 job. Even when you’re asleep, your jaw muscles are hard at work. Custom-fit night guards give those body parts the much-needed rest they need to recover from a hard day’s work, and conservative and at-home care can help you avoid and treat jaw and TMJ pain.
Teeth misalignment and other side effects of jaw malocclusion can lead to chronic pain and, if left untreated, require corrective surgery to fix. But right now, you’re trying to avoid these severe consequences.
If your jaw misalignment is still in its early stages, the answer you’re looking for could be as simple as a custom-made night guard from us at JS Dental Lab!