What is an Open Bite and How is It Corrected?

An open bite is a common dental problem. In this article, we'll tell you what it is and the alternatives to solve this oral problem, both in children and adults.
What is an Open Bite and How is It Corrected?

Last update: 07 June, 2021

Open bite is a very common dental issue. Aside from the aesthetic aspect that characterizes it, it can alter the oral health and quality of life of the person who suffers it.

In any case, it’s easy to diagnose and can be easily solved. In this article, we’ll you what this mouth condition is and the methods that exist to correct it.

What is an open bite?

Open bite is a type of malocclusion that occurs when the upper teeth fail to contact their corresponding lower teeth. This inability causes a visible space between both arches.

It’s usually observed more frequently in the anterior area of the mouth when there isn’t any contact between the upper canines and incisors with the lower ones. However, it can occur in any sector of the oral cavity, even in the molars.

As we’ve already mentioned, the main symptom of this condition is the visible space between the upper and lower teeth. This generates an aesthetic inconvenience in the person, especially if it happens in the anterior sector since an irregular smile is perceived.

However, beyond the physical problem, it can cause other health alterations. Here, we’ll mention just a few of them:

Health alterations due to open bite

  • Difficulty speaking: Patients with an open bite may be unable to pronounce some phonemes correctly due to the lack of proper tongue positioning.
  • Problems with chewing and eating: Since there isn’t any contact between the upper and lower teeth, chewing is altered.
  • Tendency to mouth breathing: Since the mouth cannot be completely closed and because of the insufficient development of the jaws, it’s common for the patient to need or become accustomed to breathing through the mouth. This further aggravates the situation.
  • Alterations in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ): Poor occlusion affects this joint, which connects the lower jaw to the skull. There are often clicks or noises in the jaw. The patients could also have headaches, neck pain, and facial pain.
  • Psychological complications: because of the problems just mentioned and because they have a different smile, people with an open bite may have self-esteem problems. This negatively affects their quality of life.
girl with braces
An alternative to solve open bites is the use of braces, which a professional can prescribe.

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Types of open bite

An open bite can be classified according to its nature and also according to its location. According to its nature, we can differentiate between skeletal and dental open bites. The first is a bone problem of hereditary or genetic origin that usually affects both jaws.

The dental open bite, as its name indicates, is only the misalignment of the teeth and is caused by repetitive harmful habits during childhood.

According to their location, we distinguish the following types of open bite:

  • Anterior: The teeth in the frontal sector (central incisors, lateral incisors, and sometimes also the canines) don’t have any contact with each other when closing the mouth. This is the most frequent.
  • Posterior: when occluding, it’s the posterior elements that don’t make contact with each other. It can happen on one or both sides. It is rare and is associated with the absence or incomplete eruption of a molar.
  • Lateral: This occurs when the lack of contact between upper and lower teeth occurs on only one side of the arch. Therefore, it can be right or left.
  • Complete: The open bite is combined front and back, contacting only the last molars.

Causes

Currently, the open bite is considered a multicausal disorder in which genetic, hereditary, and functional factors influence. This is what alters teeth and bones and determines the way of biting.

Most of the time, the open bite happens in the anterior sector and is a consequence of repetitive habits during childhood. In this period of formation of the bones of the face, any excessive and continuous stimulus can result in a malformation and malposition of the teeth.

These repetitive behaviors include excessive and prolonged use of the pacifier, finger sucking, sucking or biting on objects, mouth breathing, atypical swallowing, pushing the tongue against the teeth when speaking, swallowing, or at rest.

As we said, although less frequent, there are also skeletal open bites with a hereditary and genetic origin. There are families of “long faces”, with excessive vertical development of the face. Our genetic code contains the information for the formation of the bones of the face in the future. An alteration at this level can influence the shape of the bone tissues we use to bite.

In many cases, open bites result from a combination of several of these factors. It’s common for the patient to have a genetic predisposition and the situation is aggravated by the presence of acquired habits that allow the development of malocclusion.

Open bite treatment

There are occasional cases of open bites that resolve themselves when the baby teeth fall out. Others, however, persist into adulthood. This often happens when the patient prolongs the predisposing habits until after the eruption of the permanent teeth.

What you should know is that there are different alternatives to solve this alteration and the treatment can be performed at any age. Starting early improves the prognosis and prevents the problem from continuing.

The treatment of choice will depend on the complexity of the malocclusion and the age of the patient. The dentist in charge will perform complementary studies to reach a correct diagnosis of the open bite and thus choose the best option for that particular case.

As we’ve already mentioned, multiple factors influence this condition. You must consider these factors when starting treatment. Ignoring functional problems or installed habits and not solving them can lead to therapeutic failure.

Orthodontists must carry out their work in an interdisciplinary manner with speech therapists. They’ll collaborate in the eradication of harmful habits and will improve the phonation and the correct positioning of the language in the pronunciation.

Orthopedics or interceptive orthodontics in children

As mentioned, the earlier you address the problem, the easier it is to solve. With the use of these devices in childhood, dental experts can guide adequate bone growth.

Dentists usually prescribe removable appliances or fixed expanders. When carrying out treatment at this stage, it’s essential to work with the children to abandon the habit that’s generating the malocclusion.

Orthodontics in adolescents and adults

At this age, the bones have already completed their development, so they’re less malleable. Here the main objective is to modify the position of the dental elements. Therefore, the alternatives for these ages are brackets or transparent aligners.

Brackets are the traditional devices that allow a quick dental correction. The patient can choose between metal, sapphire, or lingual suspenders. Their disadvantage is visibility, which can be an aesthetic problem.

Clear aligners are computer-programmed plates that the patient must change regularly. They’re more discreet from an aesthetic point of view.

In some cases, it may be necessary to combine orthodontic treatment with tooth extractions to harmonize the bite.

Orthognathic surgery combined with orthodontics

In cases of adults with severe skeletal open bite, maxillofacial surgery may be necessary. The medical experts remove excess bone from the upper or lower jaw.

Before and after the surgery, the dentists usually complement the treatment with orthodontics. These treatments usually last several years. The consequence is a radical transformation of the patient’s face. Dentists choose it only in cases where orthodontics cannot achieve sufficient results.

Child at dentist
In children, the dentist also works on eliminating habits associated with open bite.

How to prevent open bite?

There are causes of an open bite that we cannot control, such as hereditary and genetic factors or the absence of some dental element. But you’ll have to focus on the habits acquired in childhood to avoid this malocclusion.

Parents should be aware of these bad habits. If children suck their thumbs, bite objects, use a pacifier for a long time, breathe through their mouths or push their teeth with their tongues, timely consultation with the orthodontist will be very helpful.

Early and frequent dental visits will also help prevent this condition. The professional will evaluate the development and occlusion of the child. If necessary, they’ll make the corresponding referral to the orthodontist. An early diagnosis simplifies the treatments, making them more pleasant, faster, and less expensive.

There’s a solution

Now you know that open bite is quite common. In addition to its aesthetic impact, it can affect the quality of life of those who suffer it in many ways.

Depending on the age and severity there are several treatment alternatives to correct it. Remember that the sooner you start the solution, the easier and less painful it’ll be. Ask your dentist to switch the open bite for a happy smile.

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