Open bites are just one of a number of bite alignment problems that orthodontists treat. If there’s a space between your (or your child’s) upper and lower teeth (usually the front teeth) when the mouth is closed, it’s a good idea to consult an orthodontist about the issue, which is treatable. Below is some introductory information about open bites so you understand what’s going on and what can be done about it.
What Is an Open Bite?
Open bites are a malocclusion, which is a fancy word for a bite misalignment. This condition is one of the rare types of malocclusion. As mentioned above, when we talk about open bites, we’re talking about when the upper and lower teeth don’t touch when the mouth is closed. Typically, this is because the teeth are slanted forward too much to come together, leaving a gap between them. Most often, it’s the front teeth that are affected, which is known as an anterior open bite; sometimes, back teeth are affected in what’s called a posterior open bite.
Is an Open Bite Concerning?
Like any other bite alignment problem, an open bite is often a cosmetic concern that can affect a person’s social comfort, willingness to smile, and self-esteem. But it can also cause other complications. For example, it may cause speech problems, such as a lisp, and it can also make biting and chewing difficult. Excessive wear may result on the back of teeth too, which increases the risk of broken teeth over time.
What Causes an Open Bite?
Sometimes, skeletal problems (usually influenced by genetics) cause an open bite if the jaws don’t grow in parallel, but instead grow slightly apart. Thumb or pacifier sucking can also alter the alignment of the teeth over time, leading to an open bite—especially if it’s done excessively or for a prolonged period. Similarly, open bites can result when someone chronically pushed against the back of their teeth with their tongue, like when they swallow or speak. Some people with temporomandibular joint disorder also push against their teeth with their tongue while seeking relief from discomfort.
How Is an Open Bite Treated?
Your orthodontist can advise you on the best course of treatment for your case. An open bite involving baby teeth may resolve when these teeth are lost and the permanent teeth come in. It may even resolve before that with behavior modification if thumb or pacifier sucking is the cause. Older children and adults may also need to use behavior modification to address tongue thrusting. Roller appliances can help with tongue thrusting when extra support is needed to address it. Braces or clear aligners are a go-to treatment for open bites. Sometimes, high-pull headgear or a vertical chin cup is used to control jaw growth. In severe cases caused by skeletal problems, jaw surgery may be needed to correct the misalignment.