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What Is an Overbite and How to Fix It?

misaligned teeth
misaligned teeth

Every smile is unique and distinctive, yet as varied as these smiles may be, our jaws’ unique alignment plays an integral role in transforming these smiles. While some people have perfectly aligned teeth, others may have certain dental conditions. Take an overbite, for instance. 

If you’re left wondering, “What is an overbite and how to fix it,” read on to learn more.

What Are Overbites?

Typically, your upper teeth slightly overlap your lower teeth. However, if the overlap is too significant, you have an overbite and might need orthodontic treatment. Clinically known as a malocclusion, an overbite can cause potential health, cosmetic, and social complications when left untreated.

Types of Overbite

Overbites come in two types: dental overbites, where only the teeth are misaligned, and skeletal overbites, which involve the jaw.

Dental Overbite

This overbite occurs when the misalignment or overlap is caused only by the teeth. Often the result of behaviors like mouth breathing, thumb-sucking, pacifier use, or nail-biting during childhood, a dental overbite doesn’t involve the jawbone.

 Here are some characteristics:

  • The upper teeth significantly cover the lower teeth when biting down
  • The misalignment can be due to crowded, tilted, or rotated teeth
  • It’s typically easier to treat compared to a skeletal overbite

However, when the overlap is too large, it’s considered an excessive overbite, also called a deep bite.

Skeletal Overbite

A skeletal overbite is more complex as it involves the jawbones, either the upper jaw overly expanding or the lower jaw not expanding enough, or possible jaw pain. 

Its likely causes are:

  • Genetically inherited jaw shape and size
  • Childhood habits like pacifier use or thumb sucking carried on too long
  • Long-term enlargement or growth of the soft tissue or bones in the upper region of the mouth may cause the jaw to shift forward away from the correct position.
  • Due to the jaw’s involvement, treatment might require surgical intervention in severe cases.

Each of these overbites requires different approaches for correction. The right treatment plan will depend on many factors, including the type of overbite, the patient’s age, and overall oral health condition.

What Causes Overbites?

Before learning how to correct an overbite, it’s crucial to understand what causes it in the first place. The causes can range from genetics to personal habits.

  • Genetics: Much like our eyes’ color or nose’s shape, our dental structure is also inherited. If your parents have overbites, there’s a higher likelihood that you might develop one, too.
  • Childhood Habits: Prolonged sucking of the thumb, extended use of pacifiers, or overuse of the bottle can push the baby teeth forward that are developing, resulting in an overbite.
  • Adult Habits: Regularly biting one’s pencil, chewing on pens, teeth grinding, or nail-biting can cause permanent teeth misalignment, leading to a dental overbite.
  • Tongue Thrusting: A behavior where the tongue pushes against the back of the teeth while swallowing or speaking can lead to an overbite over time.
  • Overcrowding of Teeth: If there isn’t enough space for the teeth to grow naturally, they can overlap and cause an overbite.
  • Jaw Development: In skeletal overbites, the problem lies in the jaw’s development rather than just the teeth. The upper jaw might grow too much, or the lower jaw might not grow enough, resulting in an overbite.

Remember, each person’s situation and causes can be unique. Professional assessment by a dentist or orthodontist will give the most accurate diagnosis and treatment strategies.

Potential Complications of Overbite

Although an overbite may seem like a cosmetic issue, it can lead to complications if left untreated. 

Here are some potential concerns:

  • Gum Irritation: When the upper teeth overlap excessively over the lower teeth, there’s an increased likelihood of the lower teeth hitting and irritating the gums above, leading to gum recession, gum damage, periodontal disease, or other gum diseases. There is also an increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease since misaligned teeth are harder to clean.
  • Increased Risk of Tooth Damage: A minor overbite can cause increased wear on the lower teeth, leading to tooth enamel loss and an increased risk of tooth decay and breakage or even tooth loss, further complicating the dental health scenario. It may result in irreversible tooth damage when the issue becomes severe.
  • Difficulty Eating and Speaking: An overbite can be challenging for a normal bite. This can lead to difficulty biting into foods properly and may even affect speech, causing lisp or other speech impediments.
  • Facial Deformation: In severe cases, excessive overbite changes the individual’s profile and the face’s shape, which might lead to aesthetic concerns and poor self-esteem. Overjets, commonly associated with overbites, can also cause the teeth to stick out – known as “buck teeth.” Severe buck teeth can also change the shape of the face.
  • Breathing Issues: Individuals, especially children with severe overbite, can face trouble breathing and may resort to mouth breathing, leading to sleep apnea or snoring.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ): An untreated, extreme overbite can increase the strain on the jaw joints, leading to TMJ, a painful jaw disorder causing discomfort, headaches, joint disorders, neck pain, and difficulty opening and closing the mouth.

Realizing the potential complications of an untreated overbite highlights the importance of early intervention and treatment. Always work closely with your dental professional to create a personalized plan that best fits your needs. 

How to Fix an Overbite

Here are ways on how to correct an overbite:

  • Orthodontic Braces: Orthodontic braces are the traditional and most common method for correcting a deep overbite or an open bite malocclusion. The braces apply pressure on the teeth and gradually move them over time. The process might take a few years, but the results are proven and effective.
  • Aligners / Invisalign: For those concerned about aesthetics, Invisalign or other clear aligners may be preferred. These are a series of custom-made, transparent trays that gradually shift the adult teeth into the right position to correct an overbite issue.
  • Retainers: In some cases, such as slight overbites, a retainer may be used after a course of braces or aligners. Retainers are custom-made devices that prevent teeth from shifting back to their previous position.
  • Palate Expanders: A palate expander may be used in children or teens whose jaws are still growing. The device, placed on the upper jaw’s roof, applies pressure to the two halves of the palate, gradually widening the upper jaw.
  • Tooth Extraction: Sometimes, due to overcrowding of teeth, the extraction of teeth is carried out to create room for teeth to realign.
  • Orthognathic Surgery: Reserved for severe cases or when the overbite is skeletal and involves changing the jaw bone. Surgery is generally considered the last resort when other treatments do not yield desired results. A growth modification device is used to improve the position of the jaw.

For positive results, these treatment options should be optimized for each person’s case, factoring in the severity of the overbite, age, overall oral health, dental issues, and personal preferences. Consult a qualified dental professional or oral surgeon to decide the best course.

The Bottom Line: Take the First Step to a Brighter Smile

Everyone deserves a smile they’re proud of, and an overbite need not hinder your path to that radiant grin. With our guide offering an understanding of what an overbite is and how to address an overbite, you’re well-equipped to take the first steps toward dental health and a brighter, healthier smile.

If an overbite problem is affecting your overall quality of life, book an initial consultation with us now. One of our dentists will assess your situation and recommend a customized treatment plan. Our dental office uses modern equipment to provide quality dental care to our patients.

About Dr. Amanda Backstrom

Dr. Backstrom was born and raised in Georgia and graduated magna cum laude with a BS degree in Biology from the University of Georgia in 2002. She earned her Doctor of Dental Medicine from Tufts University in Boston in 2007.

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