An underbite, also known as mandibular prognathism, is a dental condition where the lower teeth and jaw protrude in front of the upper teeth and jaw when the mouth is closed. Although it is a type of malocclusion or “bad bite”, an underbite is not necessarily “bad” in the sense that it can cause serious health problems, but it can result in some issues with chewing, speech, and facial appearance.
That said, the severity of an underbite can range from mild to severe.
In mild cases, the overlap between the two sets of teeth is minimal. However, in severe cases, the gap between the upper and lower teeth is so wide that the two rows of teeth cannot meet at all, which can lead to tooth wear, jaw pain, and even sleep apnea.
Early intervention is recommended to prevent the development of more severe malocclusions and to improve both function and aesthetics.
Is an underbite bad?
Severe underbite can have a negative impact on a person’s appearance, making it seem like they are constantly pushing their lower lip forward, leading to social awkwardness and self-esteem issues. This type of underbite can also cause functional problems such as difficulty in biting, chewing, and speaking.
On the other hand, mild underbite may not have any significant impact on a person’s appearance or function, and may not require treatment. However, it is important to note that even mild underbites can potentially worsen over time, leading to more severe malocclusions and functional problems.
It is important to consult with a dental professional to determine the severity of an underbite and the appropriate course of treatment. Treatment options range from orthodontic appliances such as braces or clear aligners to corrective jaw surgery for severe cases.
Problems associated with an underbite
The complications of an underbite may vary depending on the severity of the condition.
In children, an underbite can cause:
- Difficulty in biting and chewing food
- Speech problems
- Mouth breathing
- The child’s face to appear more prominent around the chin and jaw area.
- Stigma due to judgment and discrimination from classmates
In adults, an underbite may cause problems such as:
- Trouble with chewing and speech
- Jaw pain
- Wearing down of teeth
- Gum disease
- Tooth decay
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ pain)
- Aesthetic concerns, such as a protruding jaw or a receding chin.
What Causes an Underbite?
There are several factors that can contribute to an underbite, which is characterized by the lower jaw to protruding beyond the upper jaw. In most cases, this condition is said to be hereditary, which means it can be passed down through generations. If one or both parents have an underbite, their children are more likely to develop the condition.
Other possible causes include:
Abnormal jaw growth:
Abnormal jaw growth can result in a misaligned bite. Jaw growth can be affected by various factors, including injury, tumors, and developmental abnormalities.
Children who suck their thumb for a prolonged period can alter the development of their jaws, causing the lower jaw to protrude beyond the upper jaw.
Poor oral habits
Other oral habits such as tongue thrusting, mouth breathing, and prolonged use of pacifiers and bottles can also contribute to the development of underbite.
Malocclusion is a term used to describe a misaligned bite. This condition can be caused by a variety of factors, including missing teeth, crowded teeth, and other orthodontic problems.
Trauma to the jaw or face can also cause an underbite.
Fixing an underbite with correction exercises
It is essential to identify the cause of underbite to determine the most appropriate treatment. There are various ways to fix an underbite, ranging from using orthodontic devices to jaw surgery.
If you’re looking for a more natural way to correct an underbite, there are various exercises that can help to strengthen the jaw muscles, which may in turn help to improve the alignment of the teeth and jaws.
Examples of such exercises include:
1. Isometric contraction
To perform an isometric contraction exercise for your jaw, start by slightly opening your mouth and holding your lower jaw in place with your hands. Use your thumbs to hold the jaw from below and your index fingers inside your mouth to keep it in place. Contract your jaw muscles in all directions while holding your lower jaw stationary, as if you were opening and closing your mouth or moving it from side to side. Repeat each movement six times and do this exercise six times a day.
2. Circular jaw movements
Another exercise involves moving your jaw in a circular motion while keeping your mouth open wide enough to feel a slight stretch. If needed, you can start with a smaller circle and gradually increase it. You can also move your jaw from side to side as far as possible, holding each side for about five seconds before returning to the center. Aim for 10 repetitions of each exercise daily.
3. Functional jaw opening
For functional jaw opening, stand in front of a mirror and gently close your mouth while using your hands to keep your jaw in place. Slowly open your mouth as if you were about to take a bite of food and observe whether it stays in line with your upper jaw. Repeat this movement 10 times to improve your jaw functionality.
Treatment options for underbite
Typically, orthodontic devices are recommended for correcting an underbite in adults and children starting from the age of 7 years. The most common appliances used are the “reverse-pull” face mask, which is similar to braces headgear, and an upper jaw expander, which is a wire-frame device fitted across the patient’s palate. Braces and Invisalign can also be used to move the teeth in milder cases.
Orthognathic surgery is only used in severe cases or older patients and involves repositioning the lower jaw and teeth. Patients can also opt for a facelift procedure to improve the appearance and functionality of their jaw.