Here’s a little experiment you can do with the kids—ask them to close their mouth, jaw shut. Then, ask them to smile while their teeth are still together. Take a good look at how their teeth align. Do their lower jaw and upper jaw line up? Do some teeth lean to the side or towards the front? When they bite down, do their molars match up? All these alignments—teeth and jaw alike—are what dentists call occlusion. But what is it, anyway?
The term itself is a little tricky, mostly because it refers to a lot of things. Medically, to occlude something means to block off or conceal something. In chemistry, occlusion means incorporating foreign substances without binding on a molecular level. In gaming, occlusion culling is a feature that stops objects from rendering because they are blocked off—or occluded—by other objects.
Occlusion in dentistry, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game. Essentially, dental occlusion refers to the contact between the teeth. Your teeth and jaws are part of the masticatory system, which controls how you chew. Your occlusion belongs to the articulatory system, a portion of the masticatory system. These are the parts of the body that help you speak. Because everything in the masticatory system is connected, a change in occlusion could cause unintended problems in your teeth and gums.
Why is this so? And what is the importance of tooth occlusion, anyway? Let’s find out.
Occlusion is What Allows You to Eat and Speak
As part of your body’s masticatory system, your articulatory system is what “powers” the other parts. Just as your muscles are what move your bones, the articulatory system controls your mouth’s movements. A healthy tooth occlusion, then, involves the teeth of your upper and lower jaw coming together in alignment. This position not only looks good, but it also serves two essential purposes:
- It allows you to chew food correctly, making it easier for your mouth to rid itself of plaque, and
- It enables you to speak properly, particularly words containing dental consonants.
What happens, then, when your occlusion isn’t in order? Several problems, unfortunately. For one, a bad bite can do a number on your articulatory muscles. This can lead to issues like temporomandibular joint disease. Improper occlusion in childhood can also affect the way your teeth develop, with teeth growing in the direction of your bite.
Proper Occlusion Helps You (and Your Child) Function Properly
If you feel like you or your child might have occlusion problems, don’t worry. There are several options for dental occlusion treatment, and it all starts at the dental office. Some dentists might recommend that you (or your child) wear oral appliances that can ease your mouth into the right positions. Others may recommend exercises that can guide the jaw right into place. Still, others might suggest orthodontic intervention.
Regardless of what treatment you choose, just make sure that your dental problem is an occlusion one. Dental occlusion treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing, unfortunately, but for those who do need it, it can do wonders for your dental health.