What’s an open bite in dentistry?

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An open bite occurs when the upper and lower front teeth are pushed outward, causing the upper and lower jaws to never touch. It can be caused by childhood habits such as thumb sucking or chewing on objects, and can lead to tooth misalignment and self-esteem issues. Treatment includes braces and corrective jaw surgery, but patients should consider the pain, recovery time, and consultation with dental professionals.

In dentistry, a patient’s bite refers to how the teeth come together when the jaw is closed. An open bite occurs when the upper and lower front teeth are pushed outward such that the upper and lower jaws never touch whether the mouth is open or closed. There are several reasons for the development of open bite and without proper treatment there can be many lingering effects. Left untreated, an anterior open bite can change the appearance of a person’s smile and even cause a lisp, both of which can have long-lasting ramifications when it comes to self-esteem.

In many cases, an open bite is self-inflicted, caused by common childhood habits such as thumb sucking and/or chewing on an object, such as a pacifier during the younger years or a pencil during the school years. During childhood, the jaw is still developing, which increases the likelihood that these behaviors lead to tooth misalignment. Patients with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) often push their tongues to separate the teeth in an attempt to relieve chronic jaw pain. Unfortunately, tongue thrusting can also lead to an open bite.

Ideally, it’s best to prevent this condition from occurring in the first place by eliminating thumb-sucking or other behaviors that contribute to it. Once the teeth have become misaligned, correction of the open bite is usually done using braces to straighten the teeth. While effective, the treatment is not permanent, as patients often relapse into the habits that caused the condition.

Corrective jaw or orthognathic surgery can provide a more permanent fix for an open bite, as well as a host of other dental conditions. The decision to have surgery should not be made without consulting a dentist, orthodontist, and oral surgeon. This complicated surgery usually involves repositioning the upper jaw and also usually requires braces. More specifically, a portion of the bone located in the upper jaw is removed. The upper jaw is then fixed in proper alignment using a series of metal plates and screws.

It is important for patients to consider not only the pain and recovery process involved with open bite surgery, but also the time required. In many cases, the entire process, including surgery and orthodontics, is likely to take several years to complete. Ultimately, this surgery should permanently improve bite and jaw function and eliminate TMJ-related pain. It can also improve facial appearance and eliminate speech impairment caused by open bite.

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