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An underbite, also referred to as a type of malocclusion, is a dental condition where the lower jaw protrudes up and outward abnormally, partially overlapping with the upper teeth. To get a better idea as to what an underbite is, stand in front of a mirror and stick your chin out so your bottom teeth are positioned in front of your upper teeth. Unlike an overbite which is extremely common, underbites only affect 5-10% of the world’s population, and more specifically, those of Asian decent.

What Causes an Underbite?

Underbites can be caused by a few different things, including:

  • Hereditary
  • Poor chewing habits
  • Abnormalities in the jaw bone
  • Thumb-sucking

Disadvantages of an Underbite

Unlike most forms of overbites, underbites can usually not go untreated. There is too much of a risk for developing serious jaw problems and conditions for one to ignore the underbite. TMJ Disorder is a very popular condition that an underbite will lead to. TMJ can also lead to other problems within the mouth, such as with the teeth and inner cheeks. Other disadvantages of having an underbite include:

  • Can lead to jaw pain
  • Increased chances of wear and tear on enamel
  • Increased chance of tooth decay
  • Increased chance of developing gum disease (periodontal disease)
  • Interfere with ones speech
  • Can change the structure and appearance of ones face, mouth and smile
  • Can cause low self-esteem
  • Correcting the underbite can take a long period of time
  • Abnormal alignment of teeth

Correcting an Underbite

Correcting an underbite depends on different things, such as your age and the severity of the malocclusion. If you are a parent who has a child that has an underbite, he or she may be fitted with a chin cap to control the growth process of the jaw and lower chin. Another device that may work on a child is an expander. An expander is a utensil dentist’s use that comes with a turnkey and is worn for a few hours each day for several months. It is meant to expand the lower jaw and improve the bite.

Another way to correct an underbite on a child is to use a reverse-pull face mask. It looks just like a catcher’s mask and only has to be worn for a few hours each day. Generally, dentists use a reverse-pull face mask when the expander treatment is not effective. Also, the mask can be worn in conjunction with the chin cap. Orthodontic braces can also help, regardless of your age. However, you may have to fully recover from any previous treatments before braces are worn.

Unfortunately for adults, if there is an underbite it is already skeletal and surgery will be required to fix the alignment of your jaw. Braces are usually applied to adults for 1-3 years before jaw surgery takes place. During the surgery, the surgeon will push the lower jaw back, pull the upper jaw forward, or both depending on the severity of the condition.

The Cost of Correcting an Underbite

There are several factors that determine a patients actual cost to correct an underbite. Factors such as how bad the condition is, how experienced your dentist is, the type of treatment needed, the duration of treatment and dental insurance coverage. Thankfully, many dental plans cover some or most of the costs of this type of treatment. Jaw surgery is much more expensive than orthodontic braces. Braces can range in price from $3,000-$6,000, and jaw surgery can range from $20,000-$30,000.

When Should I Correct an Underbite?

Earlier is better in this situation. Underbite treatment can be cost effective and affordable if treatment is sought when the patient is under the age of 13. In most cases, dentists want to begin treatment on suspected cases of underbites when the patient is 8 years old. The important thing to remember is that the longer you wait, the worse the problem becomes. It turns from a dental condition to a skeletal condition once you become an adult and your bones are done growing. Once it’s a skeletal condition, the only form of treatment is jaw surgery.

Page updated February 2011



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