The Balancing Act of Bite and Body
The relationship between how your jaws close and your posture is a delicate balancing act according to a September 2016 study by the University of Barcelona. This study examined the relationship between dental malocclusions and 10 participants’ physiological complaints about their balance, flexibility and range of motion. Study findings show a misaligned jaw impacts more than the mouth.
Malocclusion means "bad bite" and includes missing teeth, gaps and crowding. Most people have a varying degree of malocclusion as a result of genetics, the effects of poor dental hygiene, or injury. The study confirmed that these complaints improved when malocclusions were corrected by using neuromuscular dental techniques to ensure the alignment of the jaw was corrected to a neutral position.
Neuromuscular dentistry is a specialty in dental medicine that is concerned with jaw alignment. Dentists practicing neuromuscular dentistry identify a patient’s natural jaw position, and work to adjust that alignment in order to correct malocclusions and restore a proper bite. Adjustments are made by using machines to monitor and stimulate muscles and relaxation techniques over a series of appointments.
As a result of neuromuscular dental treatment and neutral jaw positioning, the muscles no longer strain and are able to relax as they adjust to hold bones in their natural position. Patients of neuromuscular dental treatment experience improved posture, increased range of motion and even pain relief from neck pain or pain associated with conditions like TMJ.
Dr. Amy Norman, DDS of Everett, Washington, offers support for the neuromuscular connection between bad bite and balance, "Bite malocclusions force the jaw into an unnatural position – and the muscles that hold the jaw in that unnatural position become strained. This strain causes shifts in the entire body to compensate for the position of the jaw."
Malocclusion also damages teeth. Jaws that are out of alignment create uneven wear patterns and contribute to tooth erosion. Many patients with malocclusion as a result of jaw misalignment frequently experience tooth decay as a result of overcrowding which prevents them from practicing proper dental hygiene.
The study also found that balance and posture issues resulting from malocclusion are not always obvious when the body is in a normal state of rest or inactivity, but balance problems were significantly increased when participants were being physically active or in motion. Improper balance and bad posture increase the risk of injury when participating in physical activities or even walking. Previous research only tested the effects of malocclusion on bodies at rest.
Norman connects the relationship between bad balance and injury, "If jaw alignment is off the body is off in order to compensate. An individual with bite malocclusion could easily become injured when being active because the activity can further strain those muscles and bones that are already stretched. This can result in muscle strains and sprains." Risk of fracture also increases when bite malocclusions exist. "Movement changes your center of gravity. If you’re off balance, the risks of falling increases as you move so your risk of injury also increases."
Researchers also found that bad bite alignment impacted balance more when the subjects were tired. Posture and balance control greatly improved after the jaw was realigned and malocclusions were corrected, even more than when study participants were well rested.
Neuromuscular dentists are not the only ones who see the connection between the bite and balance. Professional athletes have used neuromuscular dental treatment for years in order to keep them on top of their game and minimize risk of injury. In addition to jaw realignment, many players use mouth guards designed with neuromuscular principles in mind. These mouth guards are highly customized and used keep the jaw aligned to neutral position.
Jaw alignment also has another valuable benefit in further opening the airway resulting in improved breathing, increased stamina and can help treat conditions like sleep apnea.