Malocclusion means that the upper and lower teeth don't fit together properly. The upper teeth should be slightly ahead of the lower teeth, and points and grooves of opposing molars should fit together comfortably. This condition is very common among people with Down syndrome; here are three things parents need to know about Down syndrome and malocclusion.
What are the signs of malocclusion?
There are many visible signs of malocclusion. You may notice that your child has a visible overbite or underbite, and you may notice that their teeth don't come together properly. This can make chewing or biting difficult. Your child may tell you that they're having trouble chewing, or you may see them struggling with their food. Speech abnormalities like lisps can also be a sign of malocclusion.
If your child's malocclusion is minor, you may not notice any problems with their teeth. However, a dentist will be able to identify the misalignment. Even if your child's teeth look fine, you should still take them to a dentist to confirm that no malocclusion is present. This is important because malocclusion can lead to painful problems like jaw and muscle strain.
How does Down syndrome cause malocclusion?
Down syndrome children tend to have abnormalities in their mouths that can lead to malocclusion. The maxilla—also called the upper jawbone—tends to be underdeveloped in people with Down syndrome. When this jaw is undersized in comparison to the lower jaw, the teeth don't come together properly, resulting in a type of malocclusion called an open bite.
The permanent teeth also tend to erupt later in people with Down syndrome, and they erupt on an abnormal schedule. If a tooth doesn't erupt on time, the surrounding teeth may shift position and either fully block the eruption of the tooth or force it to grow in crooked.
Can malocclusion be treated?
Malocclusion can be treated with orthodontic therapy like retainers and braces. Orthodontic treatment is highly individualized, so your child's orthodontist will carefully examine their teeth and design a plan for their treatment. Your child's cardiologist, pediatrician, and other members of their care team will need to be involved in this plan to ensure that the orthodontic treatment doesn't cause health complications.
This plan may involve widening their maxilla with specially-designed retainers, straightening their teeth with braces, or using elastics to move their jaws forwards or backwards. Children with Down syndrome may have trouble using these elastics, but as long as you're willing to help them, it's not a barrier to orthodontic treatment.
If your child has Down syndrome, take them to a dentist like Barberio Frank DMD PC to find out if they have malocclusion.