Smiles happen every day. People give them, receive them, or, in most cases, a little bit of both. And while you’ll almost certainly notice a shiny set of pearly whites flashed your way, you probably won’t notice the type of bite the smiler has.
Bites issues are also referred to as malocclusions. A malocclusion occurs when teeth don’t properly align according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A normal bite finds the upper teeth just slightly fitting over the bottom teeth and the molar points sitting in the grooves of the opposite molar. Underbites and overbites are two types of bites. They each have certain causes while having noticeable differences.
An underbite is a Class 3 malocclusion notes the NIH. It is also known as a prognathism. An underbite results from the lower jaw jutting out. This causes the bottom teeth and lower jaw to overlap the upper teeth and jaw.
Underbites tend to be hereditary. If you are born with one, you’ll probably have a larger lower jaw or smaller upper jaw. Supporting the genetics theory is the fact that Asians tend to have a higher percentage of underbites than the rest of the population. And an underbite is far less common than an overbite. They affect a mere 5-10 percent of the population.
An underbite can develop from non-hereditary factors too. Tongue thrusting causes the lower jaw to push forward in early childhood as the tongue rests on the lower front teeth. Children who have allergies and nasal issues opt to breathe through their mouths. Mouth breathing positions the tongue in a similar manner as tongue thrusting. That can also lead to an underbite. Thumb sucking, jaw bone development issues, and chewing habits are additional underbites causes according to DentalHealthMed.com (DHM).
DMH notes that underbites typically need to be treated. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) can result from an underbite. Underbites are also responsible for a host of other oral issues. They include jaw pain, enamel wear, tooth decay, speech issues, misaligned teeth, and even self-esteem issues.
An overbite is a Class 2 malocclusion known as a retrognathism according to the NIH. Just the opposite of a prognathism, an overbite results from the upper jaw and teeth severely extending beyond the bottom jaw and teeth.
Similar to an underbite, an overbite can be hereditary according to Colgate. But poor genetics isn’t the only cause and many of them result from childhood habits. Those include thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, and extended bottle usage notes Colgate. A child’s jaw can also develop incorrectly. In the case of an overbite, the upper jaw will be overdeveloped while the lower jaw will be underdeveloped. Habits more common in adults, such as nail biting and chewing pencil eraser heads, can also lead to an overbite.
While an overbite doesn’t appear to be as serious as an underbite, having one can still cause your mouth some issues. According to Dr. Sam Muslin, an overbite causes a person to apply more pressure while chewing food. That can result in wearing down teeth and the need for a tooth filling. Gum disease can also stem from the additional chewing pressure.
If you’re having bite issues, consult a dentist. He can explain in detail how your teeth should align, diagnose the bite type, and help chart a proper course of action including non-surgical solutions.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Sam Muslin, DDS.
Steven Auger is a born and bred New Englander and lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Lauren, their young sons, Andrew and Adam, and their dog, Layla. In his spare time, he enjoys staying physically fit, traveling, and cooking. Follow him on Twitter.