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What is an Underbite and What can be Done about It?

What is an Under Bite – and What Can be Done About It?

An underbite, simply put, is when your bottom front teeth overlap your upper front teeth. 

Your underbite could be in your genetics, a result of an injury, or from a birth defect, such as abnormally shaped and misaligned teeth.

Whatever the cause, I guess you’re wondering – is an underbite is bad for you?

The answer to that question is simple – YES.

An underbite can lead to facial abnormalities and health problems.

Dentists often hear patients telling them how aware they are of their somewhat odd appearance.

How their protruding chin and awkward side profile lowered their self-esteem.

But it’s not just an aesthetic issue, as the list of health problems an underbite can cause are extreme.

Difficulties with chewing, challenges with speaking, excessive wear of the tooth enamel which can cause tooth decay, tooth chipping, infections and gum disease, chronic jaw pain-causing Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), and more.

Today I’ll discuss the causes of an underbite, why you should think about correcting your underbite, and the treatments for an underbite.

Please read on and learn how to be happy and confident with your smile!

What is an Underbite?

An underbite (also called a Class III malocclusion, or a prognathism) is a dental condition where your lower teeth stick out further than your upper front teeth, that is, the lower teeth are overlapping the upper teeth.

Cases can vary in severity between;

  • A mild underbite – where your two rows of teeth are almost meeting and so it is nearly unnoticeable.
  • A severe underbite – where your teeth don’t meet at all because the gap is so wide.

A severe underbite can give others the idea that you’re showing an emotion that isn’t intentional, or for some people make them feel as though they have a “bulldog-like” appearance in their face and mouth.

This can affect your self-esteem, and you may be longing to rid yourself of the underbite for good.

However, an underbite is more than just an aesthetic issue.

Whilst in mild cases, some people may learn to live with it, severe cases of the underbite may lead to other oral health problems, including;

  • Difficulty with eating food – Due to the misalignment of your teeth, you could have trouble chewing your food.
  • Excessive wear of the tooth enamel – Another side effect of the difficulties of chewing with misaligned teeth, this can lead to tooth decay, tooth chipping, infections and gum disease.
  • Challenges with speaking – Clear speech can be difficult, any sound that depends on the teeth can be a problem, such as pronouncing the letters “s” and “f”.
  • Chronic jaw pain – The upper are pushing into your lower teeth, which is putting a lot of pressure on your jaw. This can cause Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), headaches and earaches, pain in the mouth and face, spinal misalignment and even limping.
  • Chronic mouth breathing, halitosis (bad breath) and bacterial infections.
  • Sleep apnoea and snoring.
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism).

What Causes an Underbite?

There are childhood habits that may increase the risk of developing an underbite.

These include;

  • Thumb sucking
  • Repetitive pushing on the teeth with their tongue
  • Sucking on the pacifier (especially after the age of 3)
  • Continuous feeding from a bottle (after infant years)

Other common causes of an underbite include:

Genetics

An underbite can be inherited.

You’re often likely to develop an underbite if somebody else in your family tree has one also.

That’s all thanks to genetics being the deciding factor in your jaw and teeth’s shape and size.

Certain Ethnic backgrounds are also more likely to develop underbites than others.

Injuries

If you have a severe injury to your face, this may cause permanent damage to your jawbone.

It may be possible to repair a broken jawbone, but the jaw doesn’t always fit back together properly after the surgery, and this misalignment can cause an underbite.

Tumours

If you develop tumours in your mouth or on your jawbones, this can cause your jawbone to protrude.

This protrusion can cause an underbite.

Birth Defects

It’s possible that you may have been born with a misalignment of your lower jaw, or with impacted or abnormally shaped teeth that just don’t fit together properly.

Other birth defects such as a cleft lip or palate are also common, and any of these conditions can cause an underbite.

Why Should I Treat My Underbite?

Most people aren’t born with the perfect set of teeth.

In general, slightly misaligned teeth do not require any dental treatment.

However, correcting an underbite, especially a severe underbite, can be extremely beneficial to your oral health.

Improvements that you will notice include;

  1. Your teeth will become easier to clean – This decreases any risks for tooth decay, infections and gum disease.
  2. You will feel less strain on your teeth, jaws, and facial muscles – This can reduce your risk of developing temporomandibular (TMJ) joint dysfunction, and reduce pain in the mouth, face, headaches and earaches.

How Can I Treat my Underbite?

To treat an underbite, you need to realign your teeth correctly, and this requires dental treatment.

If your underbite is less severe, your dentist may use any of the following procedures;

  • Wire or plastic braces – These will move your teeth into their correct place.
  • Extraction of one or more teeth on the lower jaw – If overcrowding of your teeth is causing your underbite, removal of teeth may help improve the appearance.
  • A grinding device – This is used to shave down and smooth out any teeth that are large or stick out.

If your underbite is more severe, your dentist may recommend surgery.

Most certified oral surgeons can correct underbites.

Common types of surgery to correct underbites include;

  1. Reshaping to lengthen the upper jaw or shorten the lower jaw – For example, the bone in the rear part of your jaw can be separated from the front part, modified, allowing the part of the jaw carrying the lower teeth to be placed further back.
  2. The use of wires, plates, or screws – These assist in maintaining the proper shape of the jawbone.

Please note – surgery does come with its risks, including infection, bleeding problems, scarring and any related to general anaesthetics.

Underbite for Youngsters

In the case of toddlers and children, the earlier an underbite is seen to, the better.

If their underbite is less severe, you should wait until they are at least 7 before pursuing any form of corrective treatment, as that’s when their permanent teeth start to erupt.

Fixing an underbite in your child usually involves the work of an Orthodontist.

They may use one of the following treatments;

  • Braces – This is the most common way to correct an underbite. If your child is self-conscious about how they will look with metal braces, they have the option of choosing clear braces.
  • Appliances – There are all sorts of special appliances that can be custom-made for your child’s mouth. However, these are typically less comfortable and more noticeable than braces, so only used if deemed necessary.

Appliances Include

#1 Upper jaw expanders – This is a wire-frame appliance that the orthodontist will fit across your child’s palate.

Every night, a special key is used to widen the expander a small amount.

This gradually causes the upper jaw to widen until the lower teeth no longer overlap them.

They are normally worn for about a year, and then can be replaced with a retainer.

#2 A “reverse pull” face mask – This looks like braces but comes in the form of headgear.

The mask wraps around your child’s head, pulling their upper jaw back into the correct position with the use of metal bands that are fastened to their upper back teeth.

If your child has a severe underbite, especially if it’s caused by a birth defect such as cleft lip, early surgery may be recommended.

Seek advice from your child’s Dentist and Doctor to see what they recommend.

As mentioned previously, surgery does come with its risks – therefore, it really is only used on children if their underbite is interfering with their ability to eat, breathe, or speak, and should only be considered as a last resort.

Invisalign

Yes, Invisalign clear aligners can fix some underbites!

In cases of severe underbites, you may need both surgery and an Invisalign treatment.

Visit Invisalign for further information on how to find a Doctor and see what Invisalign can do for your underbite.

Advantages of Invisalign include;

  • They are virtually invisible
  • They are removable, meaning you can take them out to eat and brush your teeth
  • You will have less pain throughout your treatment, as there are only gradual, gentle but still effective teeth movements
  • You will need fewer dental check-ups than required if getting braces

For more information visit www.invisalign.com.au/treatment-process

Home Remedies for an Underbite

It cannot be stressed enough that those with an underbite MUST have a good dental care regime!

Ensure you;

  • Brush your teeth at least twice daily, for two minutes each time.
  • Use toothpaste containing fluoride.
  • Pay special attention to brushing along your gum line and on the inside, outside, and the back of your mouth.
  • Floss at least once daily.
  • Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash
  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year for check-ups and cleanings.

Conclusion

An underbite is a dental condition that can affect both your self-esteem and quality of life.

Visit your dentist to earn about the best treatment option for you, to fully correct your underbite.

After all, no one is born with the perfect smile or even the perfect bite alignment.

But when your underbite is making it hard to eat, breathe or speak, learn about the treatment option to bring out the smile you were born to have, and leave that dentists’ office smiling with confidence.

Dr Veronica Roller

By Dr Veronica Roller

Created at October 16, 2019, Updated at October 13, 2021

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