Despite what movies and magazines would have us believe, only a small percent of the population is actually born with a perfectly aligned bite. In fact, a recent study found that more than 60% of adults in America had a meaningful malocclusion (i.e. alignment issue).
What causes an underbite?
An underbite occurs when a patient’s lower jaw protrudes beyond their upper jaw so that the bottom teeth sit in front of the upper teeth when the mouth is closed. Known as a Class III malocclusion, underbites can range from minor to severe and are generally caused by genetics, just like eye or hair color. However, some underbites are a result of childhood behaviors such as thumb-sucking, mouth breathing, and prolonged use of a pacifier or bottle.
Does an underbite need to be corrected?
Depending on the degree of the underbite, complications can range from mild to severe, affecting both physical and mental health. Patients with an underbite frequently experience issues with:
Self-esteem – An underbite dramatically alters a person’s face shape, causing the chin to protrude and appear much larger than it actually is. Additionally, the chronic pain and strain of the condition can also make a person look much older, the culmination of which can result in extreme self-consciousness.
Speech - In order to make sounds like “f” and “s,” the top and bottom teeth must align. When teeth don’t line up, enunciating those letters can be difficult. This challenge often adds to feelings of self-consciousness, particularly during adolescent and teenage years.
Smiling - A dominant lower lip, which occurs with an underbite, leads to a droopy smile. Unfortunately, those affected by an underbite cannot move their mouth into a traditional smile, often resulting in further self-scrutiny.
Chewing - Even an essential activity, like chewing, can become difficult when teeth are misaligned. People with severe underbites are actually at an increased risk for choking because they’re unable to properly chew their food before swallowing.
Jaw Pain - The jaw is constantly trying to keep teeth aligned, and when that’s not possible (as is the case with an underbite), it leads to increased pressure that causes headaches and jaw pain. It can also lead to Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ), which creates a feeling of the jaw being locked or stuck. TMJ can result in chronic jaw pain and cause other side effects such as chronic headaches, toothaches, earaches, dizziness, and hearing problems.
How is an underbite treated?
Severe cases may require surgery to align the jaw manually; however, there are also many less invasive treatment options available to bring the upper and lower jaw into alignment. Whenever possible, it’s best to start treatment when the patient is young, as their jaw is still forming and is manipulated more easily. Depending on patient age, health history, and degree of malocclusion, frequently recommended treatment options may include:
An upper jaw expander - Also called a palatal expander, this device is placed on the roof of the mouth and widened each night as treatment progresses. Over time, this increases the size of the dental arch and brings the upper and lower jaws into alignment.
A reverse-pull face mask - Similar to a headgear, this apparatus wraps around the head and attaches to metal bands on the back upper teeth to pull the upper jaw forward to align with the lower jaw.
A chin cap – This appliance restricts the growth of the lower jaw by wrapping around the chin and lower jaw to prevent further expansion. This is a good option for children or teens whose jaws are still being formed.
Braces and Veneers – Traditional braces may be used to adjust mildly misaligned teeth. Whereas veneers can also be placed on the upper teeth to create top and bottom jaw alignment.
Tooth extraction - By relieving the pressure of overcrowding, tooth removal can help the jaw relax into a more natural position.
Next stepsMalocclusions affect more than esthetics. They impact how the jaw grows and can lead to a host of dental problems. If you or a loved one is living with an underbite, our team is ready to help. Contact our office to schedule a consultation and learn about treatment options.