If your two front teeth extend out noticeably over your bottom ones, this is what is known as an overjet. You may be self-conscious about your appearance, particularly if you have endured any unwelcome descriptions of your front teeth, such as "buck teeth." If your child has the condition, you may be thinking about pursuing treatment so they can avoid social stigma in the future.
Though the condition is not necessarily a health problem, and many people feel no need to fix it, there is a host of treatment options available. Here's what causes the condition and what your dentist or orthodontist may suggest to treat it.
Understanding the Causes
While an overjet is sometimes confused with an overbite, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) notes that the key difference is that the teeth protrude out over bottom teeth, whereas an overbite is the result of a pronounced vertical overlap of the top teeth over the bottom ones. All front teeth have some measure of protrusion over the bottom teeth, but when the protrusion is excessive, a dentist might recommend treatment.
An abnormal alignment of the upper and lower teeth, called a malocclusion, arises when your upper and lower jaws develop differently. In the case of overjet, the lower jaw is usually underdeveloped and smaller than the upper jaw, according to a review in the Journal of Pediatric Genetics. Genetics can play a role in how your bite develops, as can the length of your bones and strength of your muscles, reports the Journal of Pediatric Genetics review. Moreover, intense and prolonged thumb or finger sucking past the age of 5 may increase the chances of some misalignment of a child's bite, notes Stanford Children's Health.
When Should You Seek Treatment?
Before recommending treatment, a dental professional will measure the protrusion of the teeth. The British Orthodontic Society (BOS) recommends that overjet in excess of 6 millimeters should definitely be treated, but any cases greater than 3.5 millimeters may be considered for treatment. The AAO proposes that all cases exceeding 9 millimeters should require medical attention.
If you or your child have excessively protruding front teeth, treatment will likely include orthodontic appliances that adjust the alignment of the bite, reports a study in the Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics. These appliances not only correct the bite, but they can also help enhance the appearance of the patient's profile.
According to the study in the Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics, an orthodontist may recommend a course of treatment that is carried out in one or two phases. A two-phase treatment option starts when children have a mix of primary and permanent teeth and their facial structures are still growing. A one-phase treatment plan bypasses the first phase and only involves appliances on the permanent teeth.
A study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that treating patients with overjet when they are between 7 and 11 years old may help prevent damage to the front teeth. However, procedures for older adolescents can also prove effective at correcting the problem. Any treatment plan will be tailored for the patient with the aim of reducing any social stigma and potential problems down the line.
Types of Orthodontic Appliances for Treatment
To correct a bite problem where the upper teeth protrude over the lower teeth, an orthodontist may use devices called functional appliances, according to the BOS. These are special types of braces designed for adolescents who are still growing and may either be fixed in place or removable, depending on the patient's need. The appliances work to tip the upper teeth back and move the lower teeth forward.
The timeline for wearing these devices can vary greatly depending on the case, though the BOS notes that functional appliance treatment is usually completed within a year, on average. During this time, the appliance will be worn on a nearly full-time basis, and the patient will have regular visits with their orthodontist to assess their progress.
If the functional appliance has done its job, the orthodontist may then place traditional braces to straighten the teeth. If, however, the functional appliance doesn't correct the problem, the orthodontist may recommend headgear, extractions or jaw surgery — though surgery is typically reserved for patients over 17 years old, reports the BOS.
It's best to see an orthodontist as early as possible to determine the best course of action. Before moving forward with any treatment, check whether your health or dental insurance will cover the procedures needed for yourself or your child.