Overbite - your questions answered

What is an overbite?

An overbite is a type of malocclusion. An overbite occurs when the upper front teeth stick out further than the lower front teeth. Dentists and doctors use the term malocclusion to describe teeth that are crooked or misaligned. One less formal term for this condition is buck teeth. This condition earned its informal name because the tooth position is similar to a rabbit.

Are all overbites formed in the same way?

No, not all overbites are formed in the same way. Some overbites are genetic. It may be seen that several members of the same family all have an overbite along with a similarly shaped jaw or profile. In this case, the overbite is often hereditary, meaning it runs in the family.

However, overbite often occurs due to a long-term habit such as thumb or pacifier sucking past age 4. Other practices that can cause an overbite include excessive nail-biting, tongue thrusting, grinding teeth, and constantly chewing the ends of your pens!

Do all overbites lead to serious issues?

Again the answer is no. A slight overbite may not cause any issues at all. However, it is best to correct an overbite, and certainly a severe overbite, to avoid difficulties.

The most common challenges resulting from an overbite are difficulty biting and chewing food, jaw pain, and speech problems. However, an overbite can also lead to cavities in the teeth, breathing difficulties, and emotional issues such as low self-esteem. Sadly children with an overbite often fall prey to bullies.

What are the signs of an overbite?

As already mentioned, the most recognizable sign of an overbite is the upper teeth protruding over the lower teeth. A person with an overbite may also appear to have a small, recessive chin. Perhaps they have difficulties opening or closing their mouth. Sometimes, if the overbite is very severe, the mouth might not close fully at all. It may be harder to keep from losing saliva from the mouth when this occurs.

How is an overbite diagnosed?

Often an overbite is diagnosed by a dentist during a routine check-up. Your dentist is more aware of the normal teeth' position and may notice subtle changes. When overbite is suspected, the dentist will often arrange x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Your dentist will refer you to an orthodontist if the overbite requires it. Orthodontists are specialists in the area of tooth and jaw alignment.

How is an overbite treated?

The treatment for an overbite tends to be different depending upon the patient's age and the severity of the condition. Childhood treatment can include several options, such as removing baby teeth to make room for adult teeth, the wearing of braces, palate expanders, and retainers. Sometimes you will be advised to wait until your child has all their adult teeth before treatment begins. This might happen because your orthodontist suspects straightening the infant teeth to be a waste of time. They might decide this if the emerging adult teeth will continue to cut through in a crooked position.

Adults may require further tooth removal and sometimes surgery to correct the jaw's position. Treatment will depend upon individual needs.

Is an overbite avoidable?

It is impossible always to avoid an overbite developing; however, parents can take steps to reduce the chances. These include;

  • discouraging long-term thumb or finger sucking past age 4,
  • ending pacifier use past infancy,
  • avoiding the long-term use of sippy cups,
  • and taking your child for regular dental check-ups.

Using thumb guards or finger guards can help end habits that lead to overbite, such as thumb sucking, finger sucking and nail biting.

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