Do Crooked Teeth Predict Your Death?

It’s a headline built to make parents freak out:

Daily Mail headline

And as is usually the case, the reality behind the headline isn’t quite so sensational. Impressive, yes. Sensational? No.

The reality is new research out of the University of Washington School of Dentistry, which “suggests that an asymmetric lower face is a novel marker that also captures early life stresses that occur after birth.” Those early stresses can lay the foundation for ill health later in life.

[Study author Philippe] Hujoel, a professor in the UW School of Dentistry, described a crooked, or asymmetric, bite as the teeth biting backward or forward on one side of the face and normally on the other side. Backward-biting asymmetries, the most common lower-face asymmetry in the U.S. population, were found to fluctuate randomly between the left and right sides of the face. Such randomness is evidence for early life stress, he said.

Hujoel emphasized that crooked teeth, overbites and underbites are different than an asymmetric bite. Those conditions can be associated with asymmetric and symmetric bites, the latter of which is largely a reflection of genetics, not environmental stress, he said.

So, no, crooked teeth don’t predict early death in and of themselves. It’s the bite that’s telling – how the teeth come together. Even then, an asymmetric bite isn’t a death warrant, particularly if you take action to support your health and lower your risk of all manner of chronic diseases.

malocclusionThere’s also plenty you can do to correct bite problems, whether they’re the result of early environmental stresses or later ones. In fact, correcting issues with the bite can lead to overall health improvements.

Consider bruxing, for instance – habitual clenching and grinding, often during sleep. While commonly associated with stress, it can also be an unconscious way of coping with a bad bite or even a compromised airway. Bruxing, in turn, is associated with sleep apnea in both adults and children.

And sleep apnea is associated with a wide range of chronic health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Interventions like oral appliance therapy and appliance-free DTR can do wonders for correcting bite-related problems. Lifestyle changes – especially in the area of diet and nutrition – can likewise be of help. The specific approach, the best approach, depends on your specific health situation and how it got that way.

For above all, and always, we want to treat the cause, not just help you mask or “manage” symptoms.

Image by Parveen chopra

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Finding Long-Term Solutions for TMJ Disorders

woman touching cheek in painAnywhere from 5 to 12% of the US population has TMJ disorder (TMD) – that is, a problem with the temporomandibular joints that allow your jaw to open and close.

Typical symptoms include clicking or popping sounds when you move your jaw, pain or tenderness in your face or around the joints, headaches, pain through your neck and shoulders, ringing in your ears or other hearing problems, and even toothaches.

In other words, it’s no fun – not just the discomfort but the drag it can be on everyday activities and your quality of life overall.

And there’s no one cause for it either. Bruxing – the habitual clenching, grinding, and gnashing of teeth, often during sleep – is a common culprit as it can damage the joint over time. Sometimes malocclusion – a misaligned bite – plays the lead role. Other causes include injury to the jaw, joint, or facial muscles, and arthritis.

Despite this, treatment of TMD can often seem monolithic, relying heavily on appliances such as splints used to stabilize the bite and prevent bruxing. They allow the muscles and ligaments to relax, as well as protect the teeth from the pressure of constant biting.

In the short term, stabilizing splints can be a big help, but according to a new review in PLoS ONE, they may not be any more effective than other therapies in the long run. As Dr. Bicuspid summarized,

In their analysis, the researchers found that the stabilization splint significantly reduced pain in the short term (less than three months). These results remained for the pooled results of 10 studies conducted on pain with TMDs of muscular origin. They also found that the stabilization splint was significantly more effective than the nonoccluding splint, while they found no difference between the stabilization splint and occlusal oral appliances.

“This indicates that patients with TMDs besides stabilization splint may benefit from other occlusal appliances in reducing symptoms of TMDs,” the authors wrote.

In addition, the researchers found that the stabilization splint was significantly more effective at reducing pain intensity in the short term. This was the case for TMDs of muscular origin examined in six studies as well.

However, they found no difference in pain reduction or pain intensity between the stabilization splint and other treatments for the longer term (three months or longer).

The results indicated a significant decrease in muscle tenderness with the stabilization splint in the short term, according to the authors. Maximum mouth opening also improved only in the short term. The effect of the splint was greater in patients who used it for 24 hours compared with those who used it only at night.

Fortunately, there are far more options available – options beyond appliance therapy. One new treatment that our patients have had consistent success with is the Disclusion Time Reduction (DTR), a computer-guided therapy that lets us reduce friction between the back teeth during chewing – the friction that causes clenching and grinding, leading to the kinds of TMJ symptoms listed above.

It’s treating the cause, not just the symptoms. And no appliances are necessary with DTR.

And in cases where appliance therapy does appear to be the best way to go, there are lots of options there, too, for reducing pressure on your jaw joints and finding relief. Coupled with lifestyle improvements – sleep, nutrition/diet, stress management, and the like – long term solutions are available to you.