Most people think that dentists only exist to deal with any dental emergencies we might have and generally educate us on the matter of oral health practices. But many of the dental emergencies we face are a result of deeper underlying conditions. For example, having a misaligned jaw can cause many other issues, including tightness and pain around the joint, temples, ears, and even shoulders.
On top of that, irregular jaw alignment could lead to an uneven bite or worsen existing imperfections. Suffice it to say, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned, you should get corrective treatment as soon as possible. But can something as simple as an Invisalign device be the key to achieving proper jaw alignment? That’s what we’re here to discuss.
How Can You Tell If You Have a Misaligned Jaw?
In some cases, an incorrect jaw position can be fairly easy to spot. The misalignment may be pronounced enough to notice that the chin is jutting forward or to the side. However, most of the time, we have to rely on other self-reported symptoms to reach a diagnosis.
As we have mentioned, pain in and around the jaw joint is a surefire sign that the jaw isn’t opening and closing correctly. Moreover, we may even register a slight popping or clicking sound when the patient opens their mouth past a certain point. Some people can report difficulty chewing, speaking, and even breathing — particularly while they’re sleeping.
Luckily, the condition is treatable no matter when we catch it, though sooner is better than later. So how can dentists diagnose subtle jaw misalignments promptly? Well, we could surmise that a patient has some degree of misalignment by looking at the result of their bite test. Usually, though, the results only show that something is wrong with the bite.
It can’t conclusively say that the uneven bite is the result of a misaligned jaw or that it has caused the jaw to shift. And as we know, both options are possible. With that being said, let’s talk about how the jaw bone can pop out of its socket and cause that kind of misalignment.
What Happens When We Lose the Proper Jaw Alignment?
Before we talk about how someone’s jaw can become dysfunctional, let’s see what proper jaw alignment looks like. When we’re treating a misaligned jaw, the problem is usually in the temporomandibular joint. That’s the socket where the jaw fits into the skull, though a cartilage disc is also there to soften the friction.
When we open our mouth, the jaw is lowered by the muscles that connect it to the cheekbone. However, if the cartilage disc is worn or the muscles that hold the jaw up loosen, the lower half of the face could shift. Of course, the change is usually so gradual that the patients don’t even notice it.
Instead, they might start hearing their jaw pop every once in a while until it becomes a regular occurrence. Alternatively, they might experience pain in the region and learn to ignore it. But why does that even happen?
As we have established, an uneven bite may have something to do with it. If the back teeth are coming into contact before the front ones or vice versa, we would have to work harder to bite down on food. That might result in the jaw slipping out of its socket. However, it’s also something Invisalign trays could help with.
If the uneven bite isn’t the cause of the jaw misalignment, other factors could be at play. For example, the jaw might have slipped out of its socket due to an injury or genetic factors. In any case, the cause of the condition will influence the treatment plan.
How to Fix a Misaligned Jaw
Remember, jaw misalignment is treatable no matter how pronounced it is. Still, the severity of the condition can affect our treatment options. Namely, if the misalignment is acute, surgical intervention may be the only path forward.
Conversely, fixing a slightly uneven jaw may be as simple as installing the right orthodontic device. With that in mind, let’s talk about the various braces and aligners that might help patients with less severe misalignments.
Invisalign Trays and Other Dental Devices
If a dentist determines that the underlying cause of a patient’s jaw misalignment is their uneven bite, they could suggest any number of corrective devices. For one, they might go with conventional braces. Nowadays, brackets and wires can be pretty invisible — or even attached to the backs of the patient’s teeth. However, those kinds of braces tend to be more difficult to keep clean.
But what if the jaw bone itself is in an improper position? In that case, a dentist might recommend headgear braces that attach around the head to pull the jaw back where it should be. To correct a condition like an underbite, they might use a reverse pull face mask instead. Meanwhile, for overbite correction, an upper jaw expander device might be a better choice.
On the other hand, as we have briefly mentioned, an invisible aligner could be another viable option. Invisalign trays are particularly helpful to patients whose jaw misalignment stems from bite issues. By striving to achieve the correct teeth alignment, we would be eliminating the cause of the jaw misalignment as well.
As we have established, severe cases of jaw misalignment may require surgical intervention. If the consequences of the condition are merely cosmetic, surgery shouldn’t be an option. However, if it’s causing the patient pain or hindering their ability to live normally, the dentist might recommend an oral surgeon. Depending on the type of misalignment they’re dealing with, they might suggest:
- Cutting the front section of the lower jaw and move it forward or back (for underbites and overbites)
- Breaking the front part of the upper jaw to lower it (so-called open bite surgery)
- Plastic surgery to fix a crooked chin if the jaw bone is otherwise fairly even
Ultimately, the purpose of these procedures would be to realign the teeth, which would naturally correct the jaw as well. However, whether a patient undergoes surgery or not, there are ways to manually encourage the jaw to shift too.
Can We Use Massages and Home Remedies to Treat a Misaligned Jaw?
Believe it or not, it’s possible to train our facial muscles to maintain a better grip on the jaw bone. Certain exercises can stimulate those areas, such as the masseter stretch, the temporalis stretch, or the monkey face exercise.
Most of them rely on the patient pressing their fingers against their cheeks or chin as they dropped their jaw. Eventually, putting that kind of pressure on the jaw can improve muscle memory to the point of straightening the jaw.
In the meantime, we recommend treating the other symptoms of a misaligned jaw by cooling the joint as needed. Additionally, patients with jaw misalignment ought to keep stress to a minimum. After all, no one would want to do all this work only to pop their jaw back out of alignment in a fit of anxiety!