Have you ever seen someone push their lower jaw forward when they are angry, pouting, or stressed? In this position, their lower jaw is so far forward that the bottom front teeth jut in front of the upper teeth. In some people, their lower jaw always sits in this position no matter how they are feeling. While it is not a problem if it happens occasionally, if it is the jaw’s normal alignment it is called an underbite. Unlike an overbite, which may safely be left alone if it is minor, even a small underbite can wreak havoc on a person’s health and well-being. For this reason, an underbite should be nearly always be treated.
An underbite causes the lower jaw to push forward and the lower teeth to rest in front of the upper teeth.
Somewhere between 5 – 10% of people develop an underbite and, usually, an underbite is caused by genetics. For some people, an injury that impacts the jawbone may create an underbite.
For others, certain childhood habits may lead to an underbite. Prolonged thumb or pacifier sucking, regularly drinking from a bottle past infancy, tongue thrusting, mouth breathing, and poor chewing habits may create or worsen this condition.
Unfortunately, an underbite that runs in the family cannot be prevented. However, if your child is younger than seven, there are steps you may be able to take to change behaviors that could be contributing to the development of an underbite. While there is usually nothing wrong if your child sucks their thumb or pacifier or drinks from a bottle past infancy, thrusts their tongue against the roof of their mouth or front teeth, breathes through their mouth, or chews differently than most people, if these childhood habits begin harming the development of their mouth they do need to be changed before causing permanent damage.
We have many resources to assist you in helping your child break childhood habits that have begun harming their mouth. Some solutions are as simple as behavior modification and positive reinforcement, others may include a specialist in various areas, depending on the root cause of the behavior.
It may take a bit of time and effort, but it is always better to change behaviors that are causing a body to develop improperly then to deal with the results after the damage has been done.
Why is it important to prevent or treat an underbite?
Since an underbite often impacts the appearance of the face, it gives the impression that a person is expressing a negative emotion that they are not actually feeling. This often has a damaging impact on interactions with other people and relationships.
Underbites also cause or worsen many physical health problems. The more severe the underbite, the worse the problems are likely to be. These adverse health effects generally become more severe over time. Since orthodontic problems become more difficult to treat as you age, waiting to treat an underbite until the problems are bothersome may mean that treatment will be much more difficult and produce less ideal results than if you treat it while a child is still growing. Common health problems include:
Jaw pain that may lead to TMJ disorder
Headaches, earaches, and chronic mouth or face pain
Poorly aligned teeth (Yes, an underbite can actually move your teeth into bad alignment!)
Tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth erosion caused by poorly aligned teeth
Difficulty biting into foods and chewing
Lisping or slurred speech – since the front teeth are in the wrong place, it can be difficult to position the mouth correctly to form sounds.
Mouth breathing while sleeping, which can cause snoring or sleep apnea
The ideal time to see an orthodontist
You may see that your child has a noticeable underbite while they are still very young, and a dentist may have even recommended that you consult an orthodontist for your 3 or 4-year-old’s underbite. Is this too early? What is the ideal age to seek treatment?
When recommending treatment Jungle Roots, we take into account both the ideal time for treatment during your child’s physical development and also their maturity. Both these components will affect the outcome of treatment.
Just as every child’s physical body develops at a different pace, so does their maturity level. Most kids are not physically ready and mentally mature enough until age 7. Here are some questions that we use to determine if your child is ready for orthodontic treatment.
Does your child brush his or her teeth without help?
Does your child have their 6-year molars yet?
Does your child express his/her emotions in a constructive way?
Does your child visit the dentist on a regular basis?
Have you spoken to your child about visiting the orthodontist, what they do, and why your child would benefit from seeing one?
Once we ask these questions and the answers are yes, then we know a child will be ready for early orthodontic treatment.
Of course, people over age seven can still be treated for an underbite. Children and teens whose skeletons are still developing can gain optimal results from treatment. Even adults with an overbite can have their jaws brought into healthy alignment, reversing many negative health effects.
There are a variety of treatment options for an underbite, depending on the severity of the condition and age of the patient. Often, a person with an underbite will gain ideal results through a combination of these treatments.
1.) Braces with rubber bands are a simple solution that works for some people.
2.) A palatal expander slowly makes the upper jaw larger. This allows the upper back teeth to rest slightly to the outside of the lower back teeth, which is a healthier bite relationship. It works best when completed before puberty.
3.) Headgear encourages the upper jaw to grow forward, into a better position against the lower jaw. It is often used along with a palatal expander for optimal results. Don’t worry – headgear isn’t worn all the time. We only ask our patients to wear headgear at night while they are home.
4. Rarely, surgery may be necessary. It is only recommended in the most extreme cases, where the health and quality of life of a patient are severely affected.
Although an underbite is an orthodontic condition that usually requires treatment, we are lucky enough to live in a time where we have the knowledge and tools to correct the problem. We offer complimentary orthodontic consultations, where we are privileged to design a customized treatment plan for you. With a bit of time and dedication, we can bring your mouth into excellent alignment for a lifetime of optimal health.
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
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