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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.