Taking care of your bite min

What to Expect at a Dental Exam Part Three: Functional Risk Assessment

How do you know if your teeth are working the way that they’re supposed to?

If you find your teeth wearing down faster than you expect, pieces of your teeth are falling off, or you have facial pain developing, your dentist may conduct a functional risk assessment.

What is a functional risk assessment?

The assessment aims to determine how well your teeth are working.

Your jaws are designed to open and close smoothly, just like all of your other joints. Except for chronic medical issues like arthritis, problems with the function of your jaws are an indication of the system not working the way that it should.

Not diagnosing and treating any potential symptoms can lead to further and more significant problems.

How do I know if I need a functional risk assessment?

There are many ways to diagnose problem areas in your mouth. Tooth decay and gum disease are just part of what your dentist looks for when they perform exams.

You push your jaw back

If you push your lower jaw back when you try to bite your back teeth together, you are at risk of injuring your joints and muscles.

At rest, you “hold” your lower jaw where it feels most comfortable. If you find yourself pushing your jaw back to chew your food, you may have an imbalance between the size of your top and bottom jaw or a misalignment of your teeth.

You avoid certain foods

Do you find yourself avoiding hard, dry foods like gum, vegetables, bagels, or protein bars because of the pain associated with them?

Your teeth and jaw are designed to eat a variety of foods with a multitude of textures. If you experience pain in your jaw, muscles, or teeth while eating, this is a sign of malfunction.

The appearance of your teeth has changed

Your teeth becoming shorter, thinner, or worn-down in the past five years is a sign of poor chewing function, abrasion from your daily habits, or erosion from acids. All of these require evaluation right away.

You are expected to have 1mm of tooth wear every 100 years. Your teeth should be the same length when you’re a teenager and into adulthood.

Your teeth are becoming more crooked, crowded, or overlapped

You are meant to have a stable bite and the ability to breathe through your nose most of the time without a speech impediment or tongue tie. This allows your teeth to stay in relatively the same position over the years. Proper tongue position at rest and during speaking and eating while breathing through your nose will allow your teeth to remain in the proper position.

Your teeth are developing spaces and becoming loose

Too much tongue pressure and breathing through your mouth contribute to spaces between your teeth. If your teeth are loose, there is a chance that it is a result of teeth clenching and grinding because the bone softens from excessive pressure on your teeth.

You have a hard time making your teeth fit together

Your bite should always be effortless. Anything less signifies that you have bite dysfunction.

You place your tongue between your teeth

If you have discomfort when your teeth touch, either due to weakened teeth or imbalanced bite/sore muscles, you will often subconsciously use your tongue to brace or cushion the bite in a more comfortable way.

You chew ice, bite your nails, use your teeth to hold objects, or have any other unnatural oral habits

All of the above actions are not the normal role of teeth or mouth, and every effort should be made to stop to avoid problems down the road.

You clench or grind your teeth together

Clenching your teeth is a sign of postural imbalance.

Your brain tells your jaw to clench, which stabilizes your head’s position on your neck. If you clench your teeth, you are more susceptible to postural issues like back or hip pain. These issues are best evaluated by a health practitioner like a chiropractor, osteopath, or physical therapist.

You have problems with sleep or wake up with discomfort or pain

Sleep is vital to your overall health.

If you regularly wake up feeling unrested or in pain, your dentist may recommend a sleep study to determine the cause of poor sleep. Inadequate or inefficient sleep is linked to many serious diseases, including dental disease.

You wear or have worn a bite appliance

Many people wear a night guard to prevent wear.

If you are experiencing jaw dysfunction in your sleep, your dentist will conduct a mandatory sleep study that will determine what kind of dental appliance for sleep should be worn.

How can a functional risk assessment save my jaws?

Early diagnosis is key in any dental problem. Wouldn’t you rather take every measure possible to save yourself from severe breakdown of your teeth and gums, and eventually the destruction of your smile? Most dental issues can be resolved, but prevention is a lot better.

You can depend on Dr. Andrea Stevens to assess your functional risk.

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