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What is an Overbite?

By A.E. Jaquith
Updated May 21, 2024
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An overbite is a dental condition in which the upper part of the jaw is misaligned over the lower jaw, causing the top row of teeth to protrude beyond those on the bottom. This condition is usually the opposite of an underbite, which is where the lower jaw sticks out beyond the upper jaw. Overbites are very common, and many people have them in small degrees. It is usually only a problem when the misalignment is noticeable, which can be aesthetically off-putting and can cause jaw pain and possible speech problems.

Causes

An overbite is medically known as a type of malocclusion, which is basically just a fancy word for “misalignment.” This sort of problem is usually caused by genetics. Children who suck their thumbs as their adult teeth are forming may also increase their risk.

Health Concerns

The majority of overbites are little more than aesthetic disturbances — that is, they may not look like a picture-perfect smile, but they are not necessarily problematic. When the condition is extreme, though, it usually is a cause for concern. This sort of malocclusion can affect a person's bite, which can lead to jaw pain and increased wear and tear on the tooth enamel — this, in turn, makes one more susceptible to tooth decay and increases the chance of developing a serious gum disease.

In rare cases, overbites can also lead to speech impediments. When teeth are abnormally aligned, the tongue cannot hit them the right way and sounds cannot be enunciated properly. A very serious overbite can even change the structure and appearance of the afflicted individual's face, particularly if the upper teeth cause a bulge in the top lip.

Diagnosis

Though an overbite has the potential to be a serious health and physical problem, it can be easily identified and treated. During a routine dental exam, a dentist should be able to detect whether a person has any malloclusion; patients should also be able to describe any concerns they have with the dentist during this exam. The dentist will work with the patient to determine whether the condition is serious enough for treatment.

Common Treatments

Dental braces are the most widely practiced corrective treatment. These are usually installed and monitored by an orthodontist, and often involve both brackets and rubber bands. The idea is to realign the teeth and jaw line by applying gentle force over time.

More serious malocclusions may require tooth extraction, or in the most extreme cases, surgery to pull back the jaw to accommodate the upper teeth. These are very invasive procedures, and are usually only performed when absolutely necessary.

Timing

Overbites are often most successfully corrected in children because the growing jaw can be easier to manipulate than one that has already fully formed. When the condition is caught early enough, treatments are often minimally invasive and very effective. Afflicted adults can usually get good results as well, but should expect corrections to take longer and be more painful.

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Discussion Comments
By anon976297 — On Nov 02, 2014

Do I really need to put braces to correct my deep bite? I heard it also causes loss of enamel.

By anon229598 — On Nov 14, 2011

I have a moderate overbite (probably genetic), but I didn't go through the corrective process of braces as a teen. I did have a speech problem with the "r" sound, along the lines of Elmer Fudd. I really didn't associate the speech problem with the overbite, however. I could form the words okay, it was just the hard "r" sound that came out wrong.

I think the worst part of having an overbite as a child was the teasing by others. I heard "Bucky Beaver" a lot, and it was common for kids to imitate a less-than-intelligent person by exaggerating an overbite.

As an adult, I'm not sure if I'd advise parents to invest thousands of dollars in corrective braces or other orthodontics unless their child was in serious pain or the overbite was pronounced. I haven't had too many physical problems as a result of my moderate overbite, and the teasing subsided over time.

Braces and other orthodontics can be very expensive, and the degree of correction (in my opinion) can be negligible. I'd say that if a family doesn't have dental insurance or the budget to pay for braces, it may be something that can be put off until things improve.

By BelugaWhale — On Jul 22, 2010

@gameaddicted - Honestly, I do not think you will be able to go back at this point - since you said it has been years since you had your braces off. If you had actually noticed it while you had your braces, or just before you had gotten them off, then I'm sure it could have been corrected. It is kind of like holding off on having a doctor look at an infection as the situation could get progressively worse, however, lucky for you that it did not cause any permanent damage.

By gameaddicted — On Jul 22, 2010

@BelugaWhale - I had an overbite and braces, but never had to get bands for it. Of course, I still have the overbite, which is a real bummer. It's been years since I had my braces, but do you think I could go back and get it corrected at a lower price or something? Aren't Orthodontists supposed to take care of *all* problems in regards to correcting your teeth?

By BelugaWhale — On Jul 22, 2010

When you have an overbite and you go to get braces, chances are you will have some rubber bands to correct it. These bands, like braces, can be painful at first, but after the first month or so the pain will go away.

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