Most people who require orthodontic braces have either an overbite (when the top front teeth overlap the bottom front teeth) or crooked teeth in the front due to crowding. In some cases, however, an underbite is to blame. An underbite is when the bottom front teeth overlap those on the top because the lower jaw protrudes forward. This can cause problems that are more severe than those caused by an overbite, and the treatments can be more involved. If this concerns you, here are four questions answered about underbites.
Why Is it Important to Treat an Underbite?
This type of malocclusion can cause the top and bottom front teeth to sit apart from each other, making it difficult to speak and eat. Children with underbites are often teased during their growing-up years, which can cause issues with self-esteem.
In addition, an underbite can cause jaw pain, ear pain, and even difficulty breathing. Sleep apnea is common, as the jaw is not aligned properly and can momentarily cut off the supply of air when the muscles relax during sleep. Tooth decay is also a common concern in underbite cases, because as the teeth rub against each other, the protective enamel can wear away, leaving the porous dentin exposed to food debris and bacteria.
How Is an Underbite Treated for Children?
Since an underbite is usually diagnosed during a child's early years, the best course of action is to begin treatment as early as possible. Your orthodontist may recommend beginning treatment during the early elementary school years, or even sooner. Your child's bones are more malleable at this point, so treatment will be simpler now than it would be if you were to wait until later in childhood.
In young children, orthodontic appliances are often (but not always) enough to correct the condition. If your child's upper jaw is too narrow to properly house the lower jaw, a palatal expander may be used. This device gently widens the upper jaw by gradually expanding and molding the bone as it does so. You will need to use a tiny key to widen the expander a millimeter at a time. Once the upper jaw is widened enough, your child will wear a retainer to hold the jaw's new position. He or she may need braces, as well.
How Is an Underbite Treated for Adults?
Once a child's bones are done growing, they become harder to move with orthodontic appliances. If you or your teenager needs to have an underbite treated, the methods might be more invasive. In some cases, oral surgery may be necessary. This surgery is usually done on the upper jaw bones. Once the palate has been widened, you'd wear a retainer while having further orthodontic treatment. If you do not wish to go through oral surgery, cosmetic procedures may improve your appearance and make it easier to eat and speak. Discuss this possibility with your orthodontist.
Will Underbite Treatment Be Covered by Insurance?
Many dental insurance companies have limited coverage for orthodontic work. The good news is that if your treatment is medically necessary, your health insurance may cover it. Since this type of malocclusion often causes symptoms that can impact your quality of life, this is worth looking into. Your orthodontist's office staff will know how to submit your treatment plan to both your dental and medical insurance companies to find out what they will cover.
Since an underbite can cause various issues with speaking and eating, as well as negatively impact your appearance, it's wise to seek treatment from an experienced dental practitioner. Your general dentist can refer you to the medical and dental specialists who will be able to improve the way your teeth and jaws function together.