You already know that good dental health is important—it helps prevent tooth decay, cavities, gum disease, and other oral health concerns. But the state of your dental health can also have an impact on your overall health, with studies linking poor dental health with heart disease and increased difficulty controlling diabetes. The alignment of your bite can also have an impact on your overall health, with certain conditions causing pain and additional wear and tear on the tooth enamel as well as affecting speech and the ability to chew. Such conditions can also negatively impact self-esteem, as misaligned teeth are usually not considered as attractive as perfectly aligned teeth. One such condition is an underbite.
What Is an Underbite?
When perfectly aligned, the top front teeth should slightly overlap the bottom teeth. Problems occur when that alignment is disrupted, such as with an underbite. The underbite is not to be confused with its more well-known counterpart, the overbite (in which the lower jaw sits too far behind the upper teeth), which affects up to 70% of the population and rarely needs any significant intervention.
An underbite affects between 5% and 10% of the population and occurs when the lower jaw protrudes beyond the upper teeth so that the bottom teeth sit in front of the upper teeth when the mouth is closed. This is the exact opposite of perfect alignment. The extent of an underbite can range from slight to severe, though even slight underbites can cause significant problems.
What Causes Underbites?
Underbites are generally caused by genetics, meaning that nothing external causes them and they can’t be prevented. Individuals with this type of underbite were just born with it and it most likely runs in the family. Such genetic factors include a large lower jaw or overcrowding of the teeth.
Less frequently, some underbites can have a physical origin caused by childhood behaviors. Such risk factors include excessive thumb sucking, mouth breathing, constantly thrusting the tongue against the teeth, using a pacifier or bottle for too long, and bad chewing habits. These underbites can likely be prevented by teaching proper chewing habits and following a pediatrician’s advice regarding pacifier and bottle usage.
What Happens if I Don’t Treat My Underbite?
Unlike with overbites, in which mild conditions are fairly common and don’t always require intervention, underbites almost always require some form of treatment even if the extent isn’t severe. This is because underbites don’t reverse on their own. Instead, fixing an underbite requires professional treatment. If you’re experiencing discomfort from an underbite, consult your Las Vegas dentist as soon as possible before things get worse.
Without treatment, existing complications such as pain and difficulty chewing can worsen. Even if you don’t notice any symptoms now, complications will surely arise with age as the wear and tear of misalignment causes pain and erodes the enamel of the teeth, increasing your risk for tooth decay, infection, and gum disease. Underbites become more difficult to treat as you age, which is why you don’t want to wait until the onset of your first symptom to think about treatment. The earlier you pursue treatment, the better your outcome will be.
What are the Complications with Underbites?
Underbites can cause a host of complications to your physical and even your mental health, which is why treatment is so important to living a healthy life. Some of the most common complications include:
- Pain -The protruding jaw puts a lot of stress on the body, causing painful conditions such as headaches, earaches, and of course pain in the jaw. This can eventually lead to a painful chronic joint condition called TMJ.
- Misaligned teeth -The protruding bite also puts pressure on the teeth so that when they grow they come in misaligned (i.e. crooked), which causes additional stress on the body.
Tooth decay/breakage -The wear and tear associated with a misaligned bite erodes the enamel, which weakens the teeth. This puts the individual at increased risk for tooth decay and broken teeth.
- Gum disease and infections – Misaligned teeth and tooth decay can create breeding grounds for bacteria, which can lead to gum disease and infections.
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking, and breathing – Depending on the severity of the underbite, the protrusion of the jaw can affect the individual’s ability to chew and swallow properly. They may also experience lisping or slurring while speaking, and conditions that affect their breathing particularly when sleeping, such as snoring and sleep apnea.
- Altered face shape – An underbite can also dramatically alter a person’s face shape, causing the chin to jut out and appear much larger than it actually is. The strain on the body can also make a person appear that they are aging prematurely.
- Low self-esteem – The chronic pain, day-to-day difficulties with eating and speaking, and/or altered face shape can also have a negative impact a person’s mental health by leading to low self-esteem.
Treating Underbites and Correction Methods
There are both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options to correct underbites no matter how severe. It is best to start treatment when the patient is still a child since their jaw is still growing and forming and is more easily manipulated into proper alignment. However, treatment can still be effective even in adults.
Some treatment options for children with underbites include:
- An upper jaw expander, a device that is placed in the upper jaw which can be widened nightly until treatment is complete.
- A reverse-pull face mask, which wraps around the head and attaches to metal bands on the back upper teeth to pull the upper jaw forward.
- A chin cap, which restricts the growth of the lower jaw.
- Braces to adjust the misaligned teeth.
Adults tend to require more invasive treatments, though braces are still an important part of the treatment process. Other underbite treatment options include:
- Tooth extraction to relieve the pressure of overcrowding and help the jaw relax into a more natural position
- Surgery to pull the upper jaw forward and/or push the lower jaw back
Underbites are a frustrating condition that can cause physical and mental stress on patients. Fortunately, they can be corrected regardless of your age or the severity of the underbite.