Recognizing And Treating Your Child’s Misaligned Jaw

As a parent, you’re likely attuned to every sign that your child is uncomfortable or hurting. If your child has been rubbing their jaw or complaining of discomfort when they eat or yawn, then they may be experiencing jaw pain, which is surprisingly common in children. While there are several possible causes of jaw pain in children, it’s often due to a misaligned bite, or a malocclusion. The good news is, recognizing your child’s misaligned jaw is the first step to treating it! 

Here at Cowan & Whitaker Orthodontics, we see many young patients who are struggling with a misaligned bite causing jaw pain and other issues. Early orthodontic evaluations are recommended by the American Association of Orthodontists for every child by the time they’re about 7 years old to help catch any potential problems, including malocclusions. By this age, most children will have enough dental “landmarks” in place that an orthodontist can ensure their teeth, jaw, and bite are developing as they should be. 

Whether your child has been exhibiting symptoms of a misaligned jaw or it’s simply time for their first orthodontic visit, Dr. Glen Cowan and Dr. Julie Whitaker will be looking for several common conditions as he examines their mouth. It can be helpful for parents to understand what these issues are and how we can correct them, so keep reading below for more information on misalignments!  

How does a misaligned bite cause jaw pain?

Most kids have a pretty big appetite and love to chow down on their favorite foods. Every time they eat, they use their jaws, which are extremely strong muscles. In fact, chewing can generate up to several hundred pounds of force per square inch! If a child has a misalignment, those powerful jaw muscles won’t be able to bite down evenly. This can create an imbalance or place significant pressure on certain teeth. 

In an attempt to correct this, the jaw muscles will often overcompensate. Over time, this can lead to soreness in the child’s jaw. Severe jaw pain can have a knock-on effect. Not only does it make eating uncomfortable, but it can also interfere with the child’s speech, breathing, and sleeping. The joint where the upper and lower jaw meets is complex, so improper functioning can lead to chronic pain in some children, even when their jaw isn’t moving. 

Think about it this way: if you wore a sandal on one foot and a high heel on the other, your back and legs would not be happy with you at the end of the day! That misaligned balance would cause aches and pains even after you took your shoes off. A bad bite works similarly, except there’s no shoe to remove. That means suffering with these symptoms every day or finding a way to treat the problem.  

What causes a misaligned bite? How can it be treated?

There are several reasons your child might develop a malocclusion. Bad bites or crooked teeth are often the result of genetics, but this can also occur with:

  • mouths that are too small for their teeth
  • upper jaw and lower jaws that are different sizes
  • the early loss of baby teeth
  • jaw injuries
  • extended thumb sucking or pacifier use 
  • prolonged use of a bottle 
  • tongue thrusting

While you may not always be able to prevent a misaligned bite, there are steps you can take to correct it! Because every child’s smile is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. When you schedule an evaluation for your child with our Tuscaloosa office, one of our doctors will perform an oral examination and assess your child’s teeth and jaw. 

If treatment is required, we’ll create a customized treatment plan based on your child’s specific needs. This may include the use of one or more orthodontic appliances, something we’ll discuss with you in detail during their visit. Some of the most common treatment options include the following.

Recognizing And Treating Your Child's Misaligned Jaw

Metal braces

Metal braces are one of the most recognizable symbols of orthodontics, and also the most common type of treatment. The brackets are made of a mix of stainless steel, nickel, and other high-quality metals, making them very durable and long-lasting. Modern metal braces are also much more comfortable and lighter than they used to be. These braces deliver excellent results and can be especially useful in cases that are more severe or complicated.

Since they don’t require some of the more complex technology or expensive equipment that newer treatments do, metal braces also tend to be a slightly more affordable option. The overall strength, durability, and cost-effectiveness of traditional braces keep them the top treatment for orthodontics, year after year.

Invisalign clear aligner therapy

Instead of brackets and wires, the Invisalign system uses a series of clear removable aligners to move teeth into the desired positions over time. This is accomplished by wearing them 20-22 hours per day throughout the treatment process, and replacing them every 1-2 weeks for the next aligner in the system.

Invisalign offers patients a bit more freedom and flexibility than other treatment options do. There are no food restrictions since aligners are removed when eating or drinking. Aligners are also designed to be taken out before brushing and flossing, so it can be easier to maintain oral health. We offer both Invisalign and Invisalign Teen in our office. 

Upper jaw expander

Upper jaw expanders are an orthodontic appliance we can use to correct an underbite. The wire-frame device fits across the upper palate, and a special key is used to widen the expander a very small amount each night. Over time, this will widen the upper jaw and bring the bite into alignment.  

Jaw surgery

In rare instances, jaw surgery may be required to correct a misaligned bite, although this is typically reserved for patients who are struggling to perform everyday functions like eating, sleeping, and speaking. Thankfully, we can usually correct alignment issues in children before they get serious enough to need surgery. 

What are the benefits of correcting a misaligned bite?

Correcting a misaligned bite can relieve jaw pain, but there are other benefits to consider as well! Your child’s teeth will be easier to clean, which reduces the risk of developing tooth decay and cavities. They’ll be less likely to chip their teeth or lose them prematurely, and they’ll be able to speak with more clarity. 

Appropriate treatment will help increase your child’s self-confidence and give them a smile they’re proud to share with everyone around them! 

Recognizing And Treating Your Child's Misaligned Jaw

Find your child’s best smile at Cowan & Whitaker Orthodontics

Correcting your child’s misaligned bite is an important investment, and one they will reap the rewards of for years to come. With a variety of effective and affordable treatment options available, it’s never been easier to get your child’s smile off to a great start! 

Our goal here at Cowan & Whitaker Orthodontics is to improve your child’s oral health, align their bite, and enhance their self-confidence, and our expert doctors and advanced treatment options can do all three! To learn more about correcting misalignments and achieving a healthier smile for your child, get in touch today to schedule a FREE consultation with our Tuscaloosa office