Cheek and Tongue biting - Ask The Gentle Dentist

During examinations I often note that patients have what is known as a dental cross bite. This is where the width of the upper and lower jaws are not ideal which can lead to frequent inadvertent biting of the cheek and/or tongue.   Because I encounter this often, I want to inform the readers of this situation. My patients will tell me after I explain this that no one has ever explained this to them before.

Ideally, the upper jaw is wider than the lower. The upper teeth actually keep the cheek draped over the biting surface preventing the teeth to pinch. At the same time the lower teeth keep the tongue centered and prevent it from being bit. When this relationship is altered from habits such as thumb sucking, mouth breathing from chronically stuffed noses or enlarged adenoids or improper swallowing habits the palate doesn’t properly form and problems develop.

The width of our maxillae (upper jaw) is formed from birth though 15 years old. The use of pacifiers and thumb sucking can affect the normal development of the palate, tooth position and swallowing patterns. Teeth are positioned in the jaw bone where there is an equalization of forces. The balance of forces from the cheeks, the position of the tongue during swallowing and the closure of the lips during nose breathing are all necessary for proper development.

The high position of the tongue in the palate is needed to shape the palate and airway. If a child uses a pacifier long term or sucks the thumb it prevents the upper front teeth from erupting to contact the lower front teeth.   This cascades into a problem of the tongue needing to be thrust forward to swallow which will prevent the upper front teeth from closing down. When the tongue and teeth are not positioned properly then the width of the upper jaw narrows upper forming the cross bite.

It is therefore necessary to prevent this in young children by using a pacifier until only 2 years old, preventing thumb sucking and monitoring chronic mouth breathing secondary to tonsil and adenoid problems.

Most often in adult patients the only thing we in the dental profession can do is to reshape or crown the existing upper teeth thereby creating enough space to push the cheek out of the way , preventing the cheek biting phenomenon.  If you find yourself irritated by cheek and tongue biting, please give us a call at (586)247-3500 and we can assess your bite to see of something can be done.

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