An underbite is a relatively common orthodontic condition. Our BC and Alberta orthodontists discuss its potential causes, symptoms, complications and treatment options for this malocclusion.
What is an underbite?
Did you know that an underbite is an orthodontic condition that can impact your oral health and well-being? Clinically referred to as a prognathism, an underbite is a relatively common malocclusion that occurs when the lower jaw protrudes beyond the upper jaw, causing the lower teeth to extend forward.
The condition can range from minor to severe. It can cause pain, discomfort and lead to individuals feeling self-conscious about their smile, since underbites affect the shape and presentation of your mouth and face.
What causes an underbite?
Orthodontic conditions are typically caused by genetics. Other contributing factors may include trauma, injury or the development of a tumor that causes your jaw to shift or misalign. Childhood behaviors such as tongue thrusting against the teeth, mouth breathing, thumb sucking and using a bottle or pacifier for too long can also cause an underbite.
What are potential complications of an underbite?
The degree of the underbite will often determine whether complications will be mild or severe. An underbite is more than just a cosmetic issue. While some people may adapt to living with mild cases, severe cases can cause problems including:
- Chronic jaw pain
- Difficulties with chewing and eating
- Tooth decay
- Gingivitis and cavities due to tooth misalignment
- Speech issues
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Sleep apnea
- Chronic mouth breathing.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) may cause you to feel that your jaw is "locked" or stuck, and can lead to significant pain and popping sensations in the jaw. Other TMJ side effects include hearing issues, earaches, dizziness, headaches and toothaches. An underbite can also cause wear and tear on your front teeth, leaving them more vulnerable to fracture and chipping.
In addition, many complications listed above can lead to more health problems. Chronic mouth breathing can make bad breath, asthma and sleep apnea worse. A significant health concern on its own, sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder marked by sudden stops and starts in breathing while you sleep.
What does an underbite look like?
An underbite creates a bulldog-like appearance of the face and mouth. The bottom teeth extend forward, causing the jaw to appear as if it's pushing outward from the mouth. Compared to an overbite, an underbite affects teeth on the underside of the mouth, while an overbite impacts teeth on the topside.
How is an underbite treated?
While most people aren't born with teeth that are perfectly aligned, a severe underbite can potentially have severe health complications. Therefore, you'd benefit from having the underbite corrected.
With underbite treatment, your risks for gum disease and tooth decay may decrease as your teeth will be easier to clean. Your jaws, teeth and facial muscles will also experience less strain and your risks of fracturing a tooth will be reduced. Plus, chronic pain and TMJ disorder can also be better managed or reduced.
Depending on the circumstances of the patient with underbite, our orthodontists may recommend braces, Invisalign or other dental appliances to shift teeth into their correct positions. A grinding device may also be recommended to smooth teeth that are large or protruding.
Our 2-Phase Approach to Orthodontics
At myORTHODONTIST, our orthodontists take a non-invasive 2-phase approach to orthodontics. Children as young as 5 years old can begin preventative treatment, with the goal to minimize the need for invasive treatments such as surgery or extractions later.
We recommend that children come in for an orthodontic assessment no later than age 7 so potential orthodontic issues can be detected and better treatment outcomes planned. This can also improve their long-term oral health and may reduce the duration of their required treatment time.
Do not hesitate to contact us about your orthodontic concerns or needs, as we treat all age groups with the aim of supporting a healthy jaw joint and facial muscle function. While we do the work of properly aligning the teeth, we look to establish an overall balance for dentofacial health.