Achieving and maintaining a beautiful smile is difficult while growing up with an orthodontic issue. But just because your mouth may have an inherent problem doesn't mean it's untreatable; dental professionals can make incredible improvements these days, and an underbite correction is no longer as tedious as it often used to be. One in 10 Americans is born with an inherited underbite, according to Sun Valley Pediatric Dentistry.
What Is an Underbite?
An underbite, clinically called prognathism, is the malocclusion or "bad bite" that happens when lower teeth overlap the upper teeth. Severity can vary between a mild underbite, where the two rows of teeth almost meet; and a situation wherein the teeth don't meet at all because the gap is so wide. It can give the impression you're expressing emotion that isn't intended, and it is therefore a common social issue that many are eager to eliminate for good.
Underbite Causes and Complications
The main cause of an underbite is a misalignment of the lower jaw, which is usually present at birth. Patients with hereditary Crouzon syndrome or basal cell nevus syndrome might show signs of an underbite, or it can develop as a result of conditions such as gigantism or acromegaly, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Some ethnic backgrounds are more likely to suffer from prognathism than others.
The problems associated with an underbite depend on how pronounced it is. If the gap is wide, it can cause:
- Eating difficulties
- Challenges with speaking
- Chronic jaw or joint (TMJ) pain, as well as head- and earaches
- Tooth decay from excessive wear of the tooth enamel
- Chronic mouth breathing, halitosis and bacterial infections
- Sleep apnea, snoring and other nighttime breathing difficulties
Unfortunately, kids aren't always kind, and when a child suffers from an underbite, he could face judgmental classmates as a result. Be as comforting as you can about the condition, and don't hesitate to seek solutions while his jaw is still developing.
Underbite Correction Methods
Several methods exist for correcting an underbite, from jaw surgery to a range of orthodontic appliances. If steps are taken while the patient is young, the right appliance is often just the thing to resolve the problem. This highlights the importance of early orthodontic screening in children, which should be explored by the age of seven.
Two common types of corrective appliances used for young patients are:
- An upper jaw expander. This is a wire-frame device the orthodontist fits across the patient's palate. Every night, a special key is used to widen the expander a tiny amount. The process gradually causes the upper jaw to widen until the lower teeth no longer close against the outside of the uppers. Patients usually wear the expander for about a year, and then replace it with a retainer.
- The "reverse-pull" face mask, which resembles braces headgear in appearance. It wraps around the child's head and pulls the upper jaw back into the right position using metal bands fastened to the upper back teeth.
In extreme cases or older patients, underbite correction might require orthognathic jaw surgery, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. In this process, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon separates the bone in the rear part of the jaw from the front part, and modifies it. This enables the part of the jaw carrying the lower teeth to be repositioned further back.
In mild cases, a new method of cosmetic dentistry is used to reshape the lower teeth and then fit veneers to the uppers. Facelift Dentistry suggests this makes it possible for the lower teeth to close behind the uppers, and avoids the need for surgery or wearable appliances. "Facelift" technology doesn't physically resolve the problem, but it makes it less visible and sufficiently improves the jaw's functionality.
Maintaining Oral Health
In the process of deciding what method of underbite correction is right for you, it's essential to maintain your oral health. Follow a regular program of twice-daily brushing, flossing and rinsing using a product such as Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™ antibacterial mouthwash, which kills germs for up to 12 hours.
Bite alignment is seldom perfect, especially at a young age, but treatments abound to make the adjustments needed to bring out the smile you were born with. Ask your dentist about what's available at your next regular cleaning.