Misaligned Teeth, Oral and Systemic Health

In clinical practice, dentists tend to focus primarily on the diagnosis and treatment of dental caries and periodontal disease. Despite their best efforts to control the two most identified dental pathologies, dentists frequently observe a continued breakdown of the oral condition over time.  Often, an undiagnosed and unresolved occlusal imbalance becomes progressively worse as the signs and symptoms of occlusal disease then become evident. 

Malocclusion and Systemic Health 

The vast majority of malocclusions develop early in life and continue to develop throughout a person’s lifetime. Genetics plays only a minor role in malocclusion. In particular, narrow dental arches are linked to a higher risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea, which restricts the space for the tongue, causing it to fall back into the throat and block the airway during sleep. This condition is linked to higher rates of blood pressure, stroke, and coronary artery disease. 

Dentists, researchers, and physicians have begun in earnest to examine the link between oral health and periodontal disease. Research suggests that periodontal disease may contribute to the progression of other systemic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Occlusal disease is an important risk factor in the etiology of gum disease. Misaligned teeth create an environment that makes it difficult to control oral pathogens associated with periodontal structures, resulting in inflammation and subsequent periodontal disease. 

The Importance of Tooth Alignment

The principles of a stable and healthy occlusion are one of the keys to long-term oral health. The goal of every dentist is to preserve a healthy masticatory system and to anticipate the long-term implications through preventative measures. In addition, dental appearance is an important aspect of the overall aesthetic quality of an individual’s facial appearance.  It is generally accepted that over half of the adult population are unsatisfied with their smile. Often, functional and aesthetic oral health goals can be difficult to accomplish in the presence of and due to the slow progression of occlusal disease over time. Widening of the dental arch via clear aligner therapy can help alleviate bruxism and sleep apnea by increasing oral volume and providing more space for the tongue, thus improving airflow. Clear aligner therapy often seeks to upright lingually collapsed molars, thereby increasing arch width.

When a person’s teeth are in proper alignment, often, the entire masticatory system including teeth, bone, muscles, periodontium, and TMJ work together in harmony to withstand the brutal forces that ensue during normal function. Dr. Edward Angles’ work in clarifying, categorizing, and developing accepted standards of documentation of occlusion served to describe the parameters for ideal occlusion. Dr. Robert Strang, who followed Angles’ work, described a healthy, normal occlusion as one that allows some deviation from ideal occlusion, is aesthetically and functionally acceptable, allows healthy breathing, and the upper and lower teeth slide and glide across each other with minimal destructive interferences avoiding breakdown of bone, gingival tissues, and tooth structure. 

Addressing Occlusion in Your Dental Practice

Even though occlusal schemes are routinely altered when restoring or replacing teeth, most dentists infrequently address occlusal disease that occurs gradually over time as teeth migrate mesially and lingually. The failure to diagnose this condition occurs partially due to the perception that occlusion as a dental discipline is not well understood, and occlusal therapy is complex with outcomes that are unpredictable. Furthermore, complicating the issue for general dentists is the fact that repeatable, routine diagnostic evaluation tools do not exist in the same manner that periodontal disease and dental caries are routinely diagnosed using radiographs and periodontal probing. Most dentists feel that daily, routine diagnosis of occlusion is difficult to document and nearly impossible to implement into the busy everyday workflow of most general dentists. Given that malocclusion is a condition that poses risks to the masticatory system over time, it is important for dentists to be able to consistently identify malocclusion. For an increasing number of our adult patient’s overtime, teeth can occlude in a manner that causes trauma and degradation of tooth structure, bone, soft tissues, TMJ, and existing dental work if imbalance occurs.  

Aligned Teeth Are Healthier Teeth

Incorporating clear aligners into your dental services is not just about expanding practice offerings; it’s about enhancing the quality of care you provide. Straighter teeth can decrease the risk of incisal edge attrition and stress cracks that undermine the structural integrity of teeth. Tooth straightening can decrease the incidence of abfractions, and can upright posteriorly inclined teeth, thereby increasing vertical dimension of occlusion to help restore proper interocclusal function. Straighter teeth are also easier to prevent plaque from accumulating interproximally, especially with anterior teeth.  Clear aligner therapy represents a viable method for neutralizing the damaging effects of misaligned teeth. Clear aligners offer a less invasive, more aesthetically pleasing alternative to traditional braces or expensive reconstructive dentistry to correct malocclusion. By adopting this innovative treatment method, you’re not only catering to the growing demand for discreet orthodontic solutions, but also prioritizing your patients’ long-term health.