Having a bite that’s out of place is never fun, especially when it means braces (has anyone else completely blocked those terrible three years out of their mind forever?), but according to Malibu, CA cosmetic dentist Bob S. Perkins, DDS, when a bite is out of place, it could mean more than just an imbalanced smile.
“There’s an architectural term called ‘form follows function,’ meaning that if something looks right, it’s probably functioning properly,” says Dr. Perkins. “A lot of the time, people who have noticeably different aesthetic features, like a short lower face or a protruding jaw, are more likely to have bigger health issues like TMJ—joint dysfunction in the jaw that can lead to pain and discomfort—or even breathing issues like sleep apnea, which is when your airway closes at night and can increase your chances of a heart attack down the road.”
The most dangerous aspect of having a bad bite is that it often gets overlooked. “Most people that have a retreated lower jaw, for example, would go to a plastic surgeon to get a chin implant thinking that will fix their aesthetic problems. But what they don’t understand is that their lower jaw is retreated because they have an underlying health issue: 90 percent of people with sleep apnea go undiagnosed.” Dr. Perkins explains that in most cases, a corrected bite will fix patient insecurities, along with the health issues they didn’t realize they had.
“Most people have a jaw that is too far back, so when treating a patient whose bite is resulting in TMJ or sleep apnea, I want to make sure I’m moving everything in the mouth forward, which can be done nonsurgically,” says Dr. Perkins.
“If I give you a bite that brings your teeth together, which can be done by adding some material to the back-bottom teeth, the result will be dramatic,” he says. “Your muscles will be more relaxed and in a more forward place, your jaw structure will look great and you’ll be able to breathe better because your chin isn’t forced back into your throat.” Plus, you’re skipping the extreme recovery times that jaw surgery or a chin implant typically entails.
If you need a telltale sign to visit a cosmetic dentist about fixing your bite, pay attention to the way you breathe while you’re asleep. “If you’re a mouth breather, your face can become totally deformed,” says Dr. Perkins. “Breathing through your mouth makes the teeth crowd, the arch is going to narrow and you’re more likely to develop sleep apnea.”
While many of us would typically think that breathing through our mouths while we sleep feels natural, Dr. Perkins argues that breathing through the nose is the most important health principle that there is. “Think of chronic mouth breathing like as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.”
If you have crowded teeth, that is a telltale sign that you breathe through your mouth. “When you’re breathing through your mouth, the tongue drops to the floor of the mouth, but the tongue is an orthodontic appliance that keeps the teeth from crowding.” When your tongue isn’t there to keep your teeth in the right place, your bite starts to change and your teeth begin to shift.
If you’re noticing that your bite is changing, you’re breathing through your mouth and your teeth are caving in, see a dentist trained in treating complex bite issues. Turns out, changing your bite can actually help you live longer.