Overbite vs Underbite

What's the difference?

Overbite vs Underbite: What's the difference?

Orthodontics like braces and Invisalign clear aligners can correct a lot of alignment issues. But sometimes, the list of conditions they treat can get confusing, especially when their names sound kind of similar — like overbite and underbite. Even though these two conditions are relatively common, there’s a lot of confusion about what they are and how they affect your smile and your bite. At Dunn Orthodontics, we treat underbites, overbites and other alignment problems to help our Arizona patients enjoy more beautiful smiles and better bite mechanics. Here’s what you should know about overbites and underbites — and how orthodontic treatment at Dunn Orthodontics can treat both.

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An ideal bite: Occlusion and malocclusion

In an ideal bite, your upper and lower teeth line up in a way that supports normal bite function, chewing and speech. The way your teeth line up when your mouth is closed is called occlusion. A malocclusion refers to a bite that’s less than ideal. Overbites and underbites are two types of malocclusions.

During an orthodontic evaluation, the orthodontist will look at how your teeth line up with each other to determine if you have a malocclusion, what type of malocclusion is present, and what kind of treatment is the best choice for correcting it.

What is an overbite?

Sometimes referred to as “buck teeth,” an overbite occurs when your upper teeth “stick out” beyond the edge of your lower teeth. It’s true — in a normally-aligned bite, your upper front teeth do fall in front of your lower front teeth when you close your mouth. But when you have an overbite, the angle between the upper teeth and lower teeth is exaggerated, leaving you upper teeth jutting out beyond where they should be. An overbite is defined by the overlap between the upper teeth and lower teeth. Normally, the upper teeth cover about 25 percent of the lower teeth. If the coverage is greater, it’s considered an overbite.

Sometimes the terms overbite and overjet are used interchangeably, but they’re actually not the same issues. An overjet is a different type of malocclusion that occurs when your upper teeth just out in front of the lower teeth, leaving a wide gap between the surfaces of the upper teeth and lower teeth when your mouth is closed.

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What is an underbite?

An underbite is essentially the opposite of an overbite. In an underbite, your lower teeth are in front of your upper teeth when you close your mouth. (You might hear an underbite referred to as “mandibular prognathism,” which simply means your lower jaw sticks out farther than normal.) Underbites are far less common than overbites, and like overbites, they can vary in severity. More significant underbites can alter the shape of your face, causing your lower jaw to appear more prominent.

What causes overbites and underbites?

Like the rest of your face shape, the shape and position of your jaws is partly determined by your genetics. If you have an overbite or an underbite, there’s a good chance someone else in your family has one, too. Tooth crowding and alignment problems, the way your teeth form in your jaw and even the size of your jaw can all cause overbites or underbites. In a few cases, an alignment problem can develop after a traumatic injury. Childhood habits, like thumb-sucking, pacifier use or tongue-thrusting can cause your jaws to grow and develop in a less-than-ideal way. Sometimes, a congenital issue like a cleft palate can alter the way your jaws grow over time.

Different issues, similar problems

Even though overbites and underbites are different orthodontic issues, the effects they have on your oral health can be similar. Both issues can change the way your smile looks, making you feel more self-conscious about the appearance of your teeth. And both can alter the shape of your face — especially the lower part of your face, along with your jawline. But aesthetics is just one way overbites and underbites affect patients. They can also cause problems with the way you bite. When your jaws aren’t optimally aligned, it puts a lot of excess strain on your jaw joints. That strain can wind up causing chronic jaw pain, headaches, and uneven tooth wear, which in turn can lead to decay and tooth loss. Some overbites and underbites can interfere with the way you talk and even your ability to eat certain foods normally. Having an overbite or an underbite corrected is important not just for helping you feel more attractive and more confident, but for helping you enjoy better oral health and overall health, too.

Treating overbites and underbites

Whether you have an overbite or an underbite, orthodontics can help. Both braces and clear aligners like Invisalign are designed to correct alignment problems, for better bite mechanics and better oral health. With both overbites and underbites, the key is to see an orthodontist as soon as possible to get treatment under way. This is one reason why it’s so important to take your child to see an orthodontist early — ideally, by age seven — so bite problems can be identified and treated proactively. Of course, that doesn’t mean overbites and underbites can’t be treated later, as an older child, a teen or even as an adult. At Dunn Orthodontics, we help patients of all ages correct alignment problems using custom treatment plans developed on a case-by-case basis for the best possible outcomes.

Underbite and overbite treatment at Dunn Orthodontics

Still confused? The good news is, you don’t really need to worry about the differences between an underbite and an overbite. The orthodontists at Dunn Orthodontics are trained to recognize — and successfully treat — all sorts of occlusion problems, from the simple to the complex. During your evaluation, we’ll determine your occlusion problem and explain the issue to you so you know what to expect during and after your treatment. The most important thing you need to do is schedule that evaluation appointment so you can take the next step toward a more beautiful, healthier smile. To book your evaluation, call Dunn Orthodontics today at 602-864-0004.