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What Exactly is Occlusion?

woman and dentist examine x-rayAt our dental office in Mill Creek, we’re often asked what certain technical dental terms mean, and we’re always happy to explain them. Which brings us to the topic of the day: Occlusion. What is occlusion? What are we looking at when we talk about it? Why does it matter? We’re glad you asked!

Occlusion Explained

Occlusion is a simply a fancy name to describe the relationship between the way your upper teeth connect with your lower teeth when you chew, bite, or clench down. More commonly, occlusion is explained as your bite.

What Are We Looking At?

When your dentist in Mill Creek is evaluating your bite, he or she is looking for any areas where the two sets of teeth don’t line up well. A healthy bite is important for proper chewing, and if a bite is “bad,” the force placed on teeth isn’t distributed evenly. This can lead to several problems and the need for restorations or long-term treatment.

How Does a Bite Become “Bad?”

There are times when people develop a bad bite as they lose their baby teeth and their permanent ones erupt. Most commonly, these are classified as overbites, underbites, or crossbites (more on these in a minute). Other individuals see a shift in their once good bite as they get older thanks to accidents, clenching or grinding, or as a result of teeth shifting when a permanent tooth is lost and not replaced.

Signs of a Bad Bite

There aren’t one or two concrete signs of malocclusion (another fancy dental term used to say bad bite). In fact, there are several symptoms that may indicate an issue including:

  • Excessive wear on tooth enamel
  • Broken or chipped teeth
  • Tooth loss
  • Head or neck pain
  • Pain in the jaw joint
  • Upper teeth that fall behind the lower teeth when the mouth is closed (underbite)
  • Top teeth that cover most or all of the bottom front teeth while biting (overbite)

If you’re experiencing any of these signs, we encourage you to call our dental office in Mill Creek. Treatment to correct a bite varies from person to person, so it’s best to evaluate your individual situation and recommend a personalized plan.

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Top 4 Ways to Stop Biting Your Cheeks

BitingCheek biting is a common habit and is actually very similar to nail biting. Typically brought on by stress or when nervous, biting the inside of the cheek — or the lips or tongue — can be painful, and in certain cases, concerning for the dental team at our Mill Creek dental office. We’re here to explain why and offer up some of the best ways to stop.

Identify the Cause

Before we discuss why biting any of the tissues in your mouth is bad for you, we should identify why it happens in the first place. If you catch your cheek in between your teeth while chewing and talking only on occasion, there’s probably nothing to be too concerned about. However, if this happens to you chronically, or if you nibble on your cheek constantly throughout the day, there may be reason for concern.

Why is It Bad?

First, any continued trauma to oral tissues can result in painful mouth sores which can become infected. Infection in the mouth is never a good thing and can actually be quite serious. Second, if you bite yourself quite often while eating, you may suffer from a misaligned bite (malocclusion). Malocclusion can lead to more serious problems like chronic headaches, a sore jaw, TMJ (temporomandibular disorder), and shifting of teeth. When your teeth don’t fit together neatly, there’s a greater chance of your cheek, lip, or tongue finding its way in between them causing you to crunch down on it (Ouch!).  

Ways to Stop

No matter what the cause may be behind biting your cheeks, there are a few tips you can try to help stop it.

  • Figure out when you do it. If your lip or cheek biting is a result of stress or nerves as opposed to a bad bite, start paying attention to when you’re doing it and work to either avoid those triggers or work to consciously stop yourself.
  • Find a support system. Sometimes, you may not realize you’re biting so often. Talk with trusted friends or coworkers about trying to stop the habit and ask them to help you identify when you do it.
  • Do something! Another common reason behind biting is boredom. If you find yourself nibbling away while watching TV, get up, get active, and do something!
  • See your dentist. If you believe your bite may be contributing to your chronic biting, talk with your dentist in Mill Creek for advice on how to help.    

If you suffer from chronically biting your cheeks, lip, or tongue, schedule an appointment at our dental office in Mill Creek. We’ll check any active sores you have for infection and help treat them if necessary, and work with you to determine not only what’s causing you to bite so often, but also the best ways to help you stop.

Accepting patients from Mill Creek, Bothell, Everett and beyond. 

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Lockjaw vs. Jaw Lock: Are They The Same Thing?

jaw lockingLockjaw and jaw lock are two very similar terms that could mean two very different things. While both insinuate the jaw becoming stuck, or ‘locked,’ and both can have similar symptoms, only one is actually related to dentistry. At my Mill Creek dental office, we want to explain the difference between the two.

Lockjaw

Many times dental patients will describe the sensation of a stuck jaw as lockjaw. This isn’t entirely accurate. Technically, the term lockjaw refers to symptoms associated with the bacterial infection called tetanus. Tetanus is usually contracted from a wound caused by a rusty piece of metal, while the bacteria itself thrives in soil, dust, and manure. When someone gets tetanus, muscle spasms are a common side effect. These spasms can affect the muscles in the face and jaw, causing the joint to tighten and allowing the person to feel as if the jaw is, in fact, locked. Tetanus is a very serious infection and can result in death if not treated. Although less prevalent nowadays thanks to vaccines, tetanus is still possible so make sure to seek medical attention if you’re experiencing symptoms of a tight or locked jaw.

Jaw Lock

Jaw lock is the term used to describe a locked jaw caused by the temporomandibular joint, also commonly referred to as the TMJ. Although still painful, scary, and serious, jaw lock won’t lead to death, but should still be evaluated and treated by a dentist in Mill Creek.

Patients with jaw lock typically can’t predict when their jaw will become stuck, either opened or closed, and most of the time there’s a lot of pain when trying to move it. There are several explanations to how and why this happens. It could be related to a bad bite (malocclusion), causing the jaw and facial muscles to become inflamed and function improperly, or it may be a result of an injury to the cartilage in the jaw joint, sometimes caused by grinding or clenching.

Signs of a Problem

Signs of a TMJ issue can vary from person to person, and not everyone experiences the locked jaw sensation. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Earaches or headaches
  • Popping or clicking when opening and closing your mouth
  • Pain associated with yawning, chewing, or opening your mouth wide
  • Change in the way your teeth fit together when teeth touch teeth

If you’re experiencing signs of a jaw problem, call my Mill Creek dental office to schedule an appointment. We’ll review your symptoms and discuss the best treatment to help relieve the pain and annoyance of a locked jaw.

Accepting patients from Mill Creek, Bothell, Everett.

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