A bad bite can lead to problems as minor as a cosmetically unattractive smile and as major as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). Orthodontists have been working to fix bad bites for as long as orthodontic dentistry has existed, and there are a number of different ways to correct one. From braces to reconstructive dentistry, there is plenty that can be done to turn a bad bite into a good one, relieving tension in the mouth and face and putting the jaw into its ideal position.
But forget the solutions to a bad bite — what causes one? A recent study has led researchers to a new theory.
Childhood Stress Could Affect Bite
Plenty of research has already shown that the first 1,000 days after conception strongly influences that person’s life expectancy and whether or not they will be at risk of chronic disease. In general, researchers look for low weight as a good indicator of stress during those first 1,000 days. A low birth weight can suggest poor nutrition during pregnancy, which can create the early life stress that links with lower life expectancy and higher risk of chronic illness.
However, when you near the 300-day mark in that 1,000 day period — which is around when a child is born — low weight ceases to be a reliable marker. So how can early life stress be measured after that first 300 days? Researchers from the University of Washington have identified a new marker: Asymmetry in the lower half of the face.
Anthropologists have long seen skull and tooth asymmetry as a marker of environmental stress in historical populations. However, it’s rare for that same understanding to be applied to modern patients. This asymmetry is easily displayed in the bite: A dentist can note such a thing in a quick exam, making it not just a longer-lasting indicator of early life stress than low birth weight, but also a far easier one to identify.
The researchers at the University of Washington examined data from over 6,600 12- to 17-year-olds who participated in a survey from 1966 to 1970. From this data, researchers found that 25% of the adolescents involved suffered from the asymmetry that they were looking for. Researchers determined that this asymmetry correlated with increased prevalence of diabetes and obesity.
Do You Have a Bad Bite?
Regardless of the cause of your bad bite, the consequences can be anything from inconvenient to life-changing. A bad bite can not only result in pain or discomfort from everyday actions like eating, but can also result in TMJ, a disorder that, if untreated, can lead to pain throughout the body and can even require surgery to resolve.
Luckily, a bad bite is fairly simple to correct. Your dentist can examine your bite and suggest the best way to correct it. That way may be as simple as treatments with a TENS unit, a sort of electric massage that relaxes the jaw muscles, or could require orthodontics or even reconstructive dentistry.