The most basic definition of malocclusion is "the misalignment of the jaw." This common disorder affects people of all ages. The Mayo Clinic estimates more than 200,000 cases are diagnosed every year in the United States alone.

Some of the most common complications associated with malocclusion are crowded teeth, cross bite, overbite, under bite and an open bite, according to Healthline. Symptoms caused by the misalignment of the jaw include frequent biting of the tongue or cheeks; discomfort or difficulty when chewing, biting, speaking or yawning; and the feeling that your teeth don’t line up correctly.

Malocclusion can be genetically inherited, but it can also be caused by behavioral habits such as thumb sucking or extremely prolonged use of bottles and pacifiers in childhood. Other factors that can contribute to malocclusion include cleft lip and palate, misshapen teeth, poor dental care and airway obstructions.

Does Mouth Breathing Contribute to or Cause Malocclusion?

A study conducted and published in the Italian medical journal Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica concluded that mouth breathing can cause changes to the development and growth of the craniofacial area, which in turn can cause malocclusion. The study looked at over 3,000 children to determine if bad habits such as mouth breathing correlated with the development of malocclusion. After a positive correlation was established, the published conclusion was that orthodontic intervention during development is necessary for optimal skeletal growth to prevent malocclusion and other complications.

Dr. David Buck, DDS, a leader in the epigenetic approach to orthodontics in the dental community, believes that breathing problems such as mouth breathing instead of nasal breathing have contributed to altered jaw growth during development, in turn changing the structure of the craniofacial region and contributing to problems such as malocclusion, TMJ disorders and sleep apnea.

"More than 80 percent of patients actually have an underdeveloped upper jaw and mid-face," he said. "Unfortunately, the lower jaw becomes undeveloped as well, as it reacts to the upper jaw."

What Are the Treatment Options for Malocclusion?

Traditional approaches to treating malocclusion include braces to correct the alignment of the teeth, tooth extractions to correct the overcrowding that often results, reshaping of teeth, surgery to correct the jaw shape or length, or wires and plates to stabilize the jaw.

Buck believes that the core of malocclusion lies in the development of the jaw itself. He uses a two-step approach combining epigenetic science and traditional orthodontics to achieve optimal jaw size and position.

"Our approach is to look at the fundamental and structural components of the face, which includes the jaw, the jaw joints and muscles," he said. "Aligning the upper and lower arches by use of appliance therapy is the first step in our treatment plan, followed by aligning the individual teeth via the use of braces. The combination of these two phases of treatment ensures beautiful faces, full lips and outstanding profiles."