In dentistry, what is an open bite?

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 forced outward in such a way that the upper and lower jaws never touch whether the mouth is open or closed. There are various reasons for the development of open bite, and without proper treatment there can be many lingering effects. When left untreated, an open anterior bite can change the look of a person's smile and even lead to a lisp, both of which can have long-lasting ramifications for self-esteem.

In many cases, an open bite is self-inflicted, caused by common childhood habits such as thumb sucking and/or prolonged chewing on an object, such as a pacifier during younger years or a pencil during school years. During childhood, the jaw is still developing, which increases the likelihood that these behaviors will lead to misalignment of the teeth. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder patients often push their tongues to spread their 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, open bite correction is usually done using braces to straighten the teeth. While effective, the treatment is not permanent, as patients often revert to the habits that caused the condition.

Corrective jaw or orthognathic surgery can provide a more permanent solution to an open bite, as well as a number 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 the repositioning of the upper jaw and usually requires braces as well. More specifically, a portion of the bone located in the upper jaw is removed. The upper jaw is secured 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 commitment 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 impediments caused by open bite.

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