Everyone dreams of that killer smile. Every year, people worldwide spend millions of dollars correcting crooked teeth and whitening stained ones. Yet, there is one condition that is not so immediately noticeable. This condition is called malocclusion. Though it sounds ominous, malocclusion is just the technical term for an overbite.
An overbite is when the top line of teeth overhangs the bottom. The jaws may be aligned but do not sit neatly together. People with an overbite may also find that their teeth are perfectly straight, despite the misalignment.
It is also possible for the lower jaw to extrude from the upper. This is known as an underbite and is a similar condition—just flipped upside down.
What Causes an Overbite?
Conditions that contribute to an overbite will vary and they are usually evident in childhood. The primary biological cause of an overbite is the size or shape of the teeth or jaw. Children with larger teeth or smaller jawbones will usually develop an overbite due to overcrowding.
Other than this, most people develop an overbite as a result of external influence. Certain habits developed during early childhood can affect teeth and jaw development. If a child does any of the following, it can cause them to develop an overbite:
- Sustained and consistent thumb sucking or pacifier use
- Overuse of a bottle
- Chronic nail biting
- Chewing on objects such as pens or pencils
- Tongue thrust (common during sleep)
In these cases, the tongue is forced against the backs of the teeth. Over prolonged periods, this can cause the teeth to be pushed outward, forming an overbite. If you’re a parent, encourage your child to drop these habits early to prevent any further jaw development. Tongue thrust is a tricky one to overcome. You can ask our Weber County family dentists for more guidance on this one.
Another way overbites can be caused is through tooth loss. If any of the front teeth are lost and not replaced quickly, this can lead to misalignment of the jaw. If your child has lost teeth that haven’t grown in quickly, talk to you Utah kids dentist for help. Waiting too long doesn’t pay.
Effects of Having an Overbite
Having an overbite can have more effects than simply altering your smile. Some other outcomes of having an overbite include:
• Increased Risk of Tooth Decay
The misalignment of teeth can lead to quicker enamel loss. This offers the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which cause cavities and tooth decay.
• Greater Risk of Gum Disease
For people with severe overbites, the lower teeth may touch the gum that holds the front teeth. Over the years, this gentle contact can gradually wear away the gum tissue, exposing the tooth and its root. This exposure will allow bacteria and food particles in, which can lead to gum disease.
• Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) and Jaw Pain
TMD is a condition in which the jaw, neck, and face muscles begin to ache due to extended movement. This can be caused by the lack of connection by the teeth found in an overbite. The pain can also result in stiffness, lockjaw, headaches, and earaches.
• Speech and Self-Esteem Issues
It can never be understated just how much our teeth can affect our self-esteem. Some people can feel particularly anxious or affected by the misalignment of their teeth, which affects their outlook on life. The shape of the jaw can also affect speech, which can further add to these anxieties.
How to Treat an Overbite
Fortunately, there are ways to address overbites. Thanks to orthodontists’ years of focus and dedication, many solutions have been devised to treat an overbite. Which treatment is right for you will depend on a few factors, but rest assured, there is hope.
There is no need to seek treatment for those with an overbite of between 2 and 4mm. This is an acceptable level of space that will not lead to any of the issues mentioned above, assuming the patient keeps up with regular dental care.
For children with an overbite, parents are advised to wait until age 7 before seeking treatment. This age allows the baby teeth to begin falling out, so treatment will not disrupt tooth growth.
For adults, the options are fewer, as the jaw has finished developing. In some cases, surgery may be needed.
• Removable Retainer
For smaller overbites, a removable retainer is an ideal tool for addressing the condition. A wireframe will hold back the front teeth and prevent an overbite by hooking wires over the back teeth.
The fact that it is removable means that the wearer can take it out to clean their teeth. However, you have to remember to use it for it to be effective.
Using a series of brackets and wires attached directly to the teeth, braces will gradually pull teeth back into line. Primarily, braces are given to older children and teenagers. They have a much higher success rate than retainers but require more regular care and checkups. They can also be uncomfortable and are unremovable during the time they are used.
Invisalign is a more flexible option because the clear aligners that fit over the teeth can be removed. As with retainers, though, they leave compliance up to the user so make sure to be consistent with your Invisalign aligners if you choose this route.
Jaw Surgery (Orthognathic Surgery)
If your overbite is too severe for a retainer or braces (or your teeth and jaw have finished growing), then surgery may be the best option. The procedure will involve an orthodontist administering general anesthesia so that the jaw can be cut, reshaped, and repositioned. It requires coordination between an oral surgeon and an orthodontist but is the most effective treatment for a large overbite.
As with all conditions caused by growth, it pays to catch overbite development early. If your child is showing signs of developing an overbite, or you have previously had one yourself, it is worth speaking to your Utah family dentist.