When you look in the mirror at your smile, what do you see?

Most of us would comment on one of two main things: the color or alignment of the teeth. After all, most of us want a great looking smile, and we realize that white, straight teeth look better than yellow, crooked teeth.

What most people don’t realize is that straight teeth can also give you a healthier smile and improve your overall health.

When discussing orthodontic treatment with patients, I want to address their esthetic concerns but also make them healthier by eliminating harmful conditions like crowding and malocclusion that negatively impact oral and overall health.

Crowding is caused by the dental arch not being large enough to accommodate all of the teeth. Severe crowding makes it incredibly difficult to properly clean the teeth and can cause an increase in plaque and bacteria, resulting in cavities, bad breath, recession, exposed root surfaces, gingivitis and gum disease.

Gum disease, called periodontitis, can cause bone and gums around teeth to become damaged and destroyed and has also been linked to systemic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Malocclusion, like crowding, is an incorrect position of the teeth, but is the misalignment or incorrect relationship of the upper and lower teeth as they come together when you bite. When teeth don’t come together in an ideal way, the force of the bite can overwork a tooth and apply abnormally high pressure on the tooth until it breaks or becomes painful.

This damaging condition can lead to severe wear, fractures and breakdown of teeth.

Correcting malocclusion and having the top and bottom teeth fit together properly will spread the strong biting forces over all teeth equally, reducing the pressure on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and decreasing the chance of damage to the teeth and surrounding gum and bone.

While a more attractive smile can do wonders for a person’s self esteem, happiness and outward appearance, decreasing the chance for cavities, reducing tooth damage and improving gum health are added benefits that show a straighter smile can give you a healthier life.

Jessica M. Gower, DMD practices as a general dentist at Palmetto Dental Arts, where the focus is on comprehensive care. www.palmettodental.com