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In Dentistry, what is an Open Bite?

By Virginia Franco
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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In dentistry, a patient's bite refers to how the teeth come together when the jaw is closed. An open bite occurs when the front upper and lower teeth are forced outward such that the upper and lower jaws never touch whether the mouth is open or closed. There are several reasons for open bite development, 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 cause a lisp, both of which can have long lasting ramifications with regards to 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 the younger years or a pencil during the school-aged years. During childhood, the jaw is still developing, which increases the likelihood that these behaviors will lead to teeth misalignment. Patients with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) often thrust the tongue to push the teeth apart in an attempt to relieve chronic jaw pain. Unfortunately, tongue thrusting can also lead to an open bite.

Ideally, it is 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 performed 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 solution for an open bite, as well as a host of other dental conditions. The decision to undergo surgery should not be taken without consulting a dentist, an orthodontist, and an oral surgeon. This complicated surgery usually involves repositioning of the upper jaw, and usually additionally requires braces. More specifically, a portion of the bone located in the upper jaw is removed. The upper jaw is then secured into 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, it is likely the entire process, including surgery and orthodontics, may take several years to complete. Ultimately, this surgery should permanently improve bite and functionality of the jaw and eliminate TMJ-related pain. It can also improve facial appearance and eliminate speech impediments caused by open bite.

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Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Jul 09, 2013

I don't really think we should put that much emphasis on what teeth look like. A lot of the time I think people who get corrective surgery on their teeth are trying for an ideal, which, to me, is always a bad idea.

With that said, I can understand why someone with a severe open bite might want to get surgical orthodontic treatment. If the jaw isn't closing properly it can be difficult to eat and talk and basically get on with life.

By croydon — On Jul 09, 2013

@KoiwiGal - I wouldn't feel guilty about it. Sounds like it was mostly your dad's fault, although I think little sisters will often copy their big sisters.

And braces aren't great, but they aren't so bad these days. One of my friends had to wear them as an adult a few years ago in an attempt to fix an open bite with braces rather than surgery.

I actually thought they were kind of cute and he said that they didn't really bother him too much. Getting them put on was a bit painful though.

By KoiwiGal — On Jul 08, 2013

When I was a baby, I would suck my thumb a lot and my father thought it looked really cute, even though my mother wanted me to stop it.

He thought it was so cute that he encouraged my little sister to do it as well, when she was a toddler.

Eventually he realized that it was going to be bad for our teeth and he tried to get us to stop it, but by that point we were both very much into the habit of it.

Unfortunately, my sister ended up needing braces for an open bite. I always felt a bit guilty about the fact that apparently I never needed them. Especially since it was my thumb sucking that led to her even developing the habit in the first place!

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