Underbite (prognathism) occurs when the lower teeth overlap with the upper teeth. Severity can vary significantly and sometimes the gap is so large the teeth don't even meet at all. While underbite rarely poses a major physical problem, sufferers often struggle to convey facial emotions clearly. Underbite correction used to be a tedious procedure; however, with modern dentistry, many cases can be solved with corrective surgery and/or braces.
Underbite is an inherent condition that is usually present from birth. Certain ethic backgrounds are more susceptible to it than others. Physical problems could include eating difficulties, chronic jaw pain, difficulty speaking, excessive tooth wear and sleeping disorders. Unfortunately, children suffering from underbite are often bullied; therefore, it can also lead to psychological trauma.
Underbite Correction for Children
Children should have an orthodontic evaluation by the age of seven. Targeting underbite while the jaw is still developing is highly recommended in order to successfully treat the condition. There are two common procedures for children: upper jaw expansion and reverse pull.
An upper jaw expander is a frame that's fitted to the patient. A key is used to widen the expander a little more every night before bed. Over time – usually around one year – the lower teeth will no longer close against the upper teeth. At this stage the expander can be replaced with a retainer. Reverse pull treatment requires brace headgear that wraps around the head and pulls the upper jaw back into the correct position.
Underbite Correction for Adults
Older patients often require orthognathic jaw surgery as their jaw has already fully developed and won't naturally grow into place. During this process the dental surgeon will separate the bone and rear section of the jaw and modify it to suit the size and shape of the mouth. Teeth may also be repositioned or removed to accommodate the new position.
Alternatively, cosmetic procedures may be an option. This often involves reshaping the lower teeth and fitting veeners to the upper teeth. Cosmetic correction eliminates the need for wearable headgear as the jaw itself isn't realigned or adapted. Cosmetic procedures won't, however, solve the problem; they will merely make it less noticeable.
Underbite should be pinpointed and resolved from a early age. Addressing the problem before it develops will literally "force" the jaw and teeth to grow the correct way. While almost every type of end-stage treatment will require some form of braces, in mild cases a retainer may be all that's required.