Malocclusion is a widespread and undertreated condition with broad implications for oral health. Recently, two studies have found evidence suggesting that the effects of malocclusion extend well beyond the mouth, and may affect an individual's balance and posture. The researchers were particularly focused on athletes, who must maintain excellent posture and balance to succeed at their sports, and for whom even minor deficiencies may have a significant impact.
"Balance" is a general term for the ability of an individual's body to maintain a consistent and controlled orientation. This ability stems from three main sensory systems: vestibular, somatosensory, and visual. The vestibular system is mostly comprised of the inner ear, which senses vertical orientation, acceleration and head position. The somatosensory system informs the body about the relative positions of body parts to one another, and the visual system helps benchmark all the other systems against one another. "Posture" is a term more rooted in psychology which details how the body position responds to and influences both emotion and mental feedback.
The first study, conducted by researchers at the University of Barcelona, examined the effect of malocclusion on posture, finding that those with malocclusion tend to have poorer posture. This is likely due to the fact that an individual's specific posture is often determined by where the mind feels the body is most evenly positioned and relaxed. Asymmetric features or conditions may shift the posture, as in the case of astigmatism, where individuals afflicted tend to tilt their heads slightly as part of the mind's desire to correct the perceived imbalance. It is thought that malocclusion may influence posture in this manner. This effect could play a crucial role in reducing sprains and fractures caused by instability as athletes grow fatigued.
In the second study, published by the University of Innsbruck, the authors investigated malocclusion's contribution to balance deficits. The study showed that re-positioning the jaw to a neutral position improved both static and moving balance, especially when the subject was fatigued. This effect may stem from the influence between the trigeminal nerve and the vestibular nucleus, which as discussed above helps regulate balance.
These findings provide further evidence for the systemic connection that the oral cavity as a "window to the body" possesses, and stress the importance of maintaining good oral health in all its forms. Sports medicine professionals and mouth guard manufacturers may also take interest in these findings as a way to improve performance.
Plataforma SINC. (2016, September 14). A bad bite is associated with worse postural, balance control. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160914090458.htm
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