What Exactly is “Occlusal Disease”?

What Exactly is “Occlusal Disease”?

And what does it have to do with tricycles?


Dentistry has traditionally diagnosed and treated three basic conditions relating to our teeth and their support systems:

  1. Tooth Decay (dental caries),
  2. Periodontal disease (diseases affecting the supporting structures of the teeth – the gums and bone) and
  3. Occlusal disease – those conditions affecting how the teeth meet when biting.

Occlusal disease has been without a doubt, the least understood of the three.

Fundamentally, the human jaw works like a tricycle, with the jaw joints acting like the rear wheels and the front teeth, like the front wheel, serving to guide or steer the lower jaw. A person’s occlusion or “bite”, as it is commonly called, just refers to how the upper and lower teeth meet when you close. Our back teeth have many hills and valleys which we call cusps and fossae. These cusps and fossae are supposed to interdigitate with each other like teeth on gears wheels. When they don’t, bad things happen!

Common symptoms when teeth don’t meet evenly and work together may include: uneven tooth wear, teeth and fillings that chip and break, sore jaw muscles, jaw joint problems, grinding, increased sensitivity to cold, and more. Patients and dentists alike are often puzzled by symptoms they can’t readily connect to a problem with the bite. Even worse, patients are often skeptical of treating these conditions, especially when they don’t understand the benefits.

The most overlooked and underutilized of all dental treatments is the occlusal adjustment or occlusal equilibration. It is simply the mechanical adjustment or smoothing of the biting surfaces of the teeth to allow the teeth to meet harmoniously. It is painless and is often all that is needed to correct a bad bite. For additional information you can search the American Dental Association and Academy of General Dentistry’s websites, or simply ask us the next time we see you.

If you have any questions in the meantime, you can contact me or the staff at my office, Dr. Laurence Stone in Doylestown, PA to discuss any concerns you may have about this or any other issue in the field of dentistry.

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