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Updated on January 6, 2023
6 min read

Overbites: Causes, Complications & How To Fix Them

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What is an Overbite? 

An overbite (also known as buck teeth or deep bite) is a malocclusion, or misalignment, of the teeth. It occurs when the upper teeth protrude beyond the lower teeth.

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What Causes an Overbite?

Overbites develop in childhood, and the most common cause is genetics. A child’s mouth can be too large or too small to fit teeth properly. 

Childhood habits, including long-term pacifier and bottle use, finger sucking, thumb sucking, and pushing the tongue against the back of the teeth can all lead to an overbite.

Types of Overbites

There are two types of overbites, including:

1. Skeletal Overbite

A skeletal overbite results from irregular jawbone development, causing the jaws and teeth to grow improperly. 

The most common cause of an overbite is the size and shape of a child’s teeth and jaw (genetics). The jawbone and lower teeth can sit back too far, causing the top teeth to stick out or protrude.

A person’s mouth can either be too large or have too little space to fit teeth properly. If left untreated, this form of malocclusion can also result in overcrowding, crooked teeth, or spaced teeth.

overbite malocclusion scaled 1

2. Dental Overbite

A dental overbite is a result of an external disrupter of dental development. Childhood habits that involve tongue thrusting or pushing the tongue against the back of the teeth can cause an overbite. These parafunctional habits include long-term pacifier and bottle use, finger sucking, and thumb sucking.

These habits can worsen the condition if a child already has an overbite due to genetics. Breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, are also linked to this form of malocclusion.3

Other common causes of an overbite include, but are not limited to:

  • Losing baby teeth prematurely without treatment with space maintainers 
  • Breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea or upper airway respiratory syndrome
  • Frequent nail-biting and chewing on hard objects
  • Grinding teeth
  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD)

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Signs and Symptoms of an Overbite

Look in the mirror while you're biting down. If most of your lower teeth (3.5 mm or more) are hidden by your top teeth, you may have an overbite. 

Other common symptoms of an overbite include:

  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth
  • Jaw pain or lockjaw
  • Discomfort while eating
  • Speech issues
  • Earaches and headaches

If you have these symptoms, see your dentist. They will be able to provide the most accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Overbite Complications

Overbites should never go uncorrected. If children do not receive overbite correction treatment early, they are more likely to need jaw surgery as adults. 

Severe pain, jaw problems, and dental conditions can also result over time.

Common complications of an untreated overbite include:

Tooth Decay

Children, teens, and adults with overbites are more likely to develop cavities. This is because the enamel wears away faster, which creates the perfect environment for cavities to form.

Gum Disease

In a severe anterior overbite, the lower front teeth usually contact the gum line in the back of the upper front teeth.

This can result in gum recession, which is when the gum tissue wears away and exposes more of a tooth or a tooth’s root. Gum disease, such as gingivitis or periodontal disease, is more likely to develop.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)

TMD causes severe pain and dysfunction in the jaw and muscles that control jaw movement. Without overbite treatment, TMD can form over time.

Common symptoms include extreme jaw, neck, and face pain. Stiffness, lockjaw, headaches, and earaches can also occur.

Other Health Risks

Other complications of untreated overbites include:

  • Difficulties chewing, speaking, and swallowing
  • Severe headaches and discomfort
  • Crooked teeth and structural mouth changes
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleep apnea

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Diagnosing an Overbite

A dentist will likely notice an overbite during a dental exam. They will use a cephalometric radiograph (ceph X-ray) to confirm the overbite and judge its severity.

After your diagnosis, the dentist may refer you to an orthodontist who specializes in tooth and jaw alignment for treatment.

How to Fix an Overbite

The type of treatment depends on the patient’s age, the severity of misalignment, and whether the overbite is skeletal or dental. The earlier an overbite is corrected, the less likely cavities, gum disease, and TMD will develop.

Orthodontists recommend waiting until a child turns seven years of age to seek treatment (once the primary teeth begin to shed and permanent teeth erupt).

Treatment is still possible for adults, but options are limited since the teeth and jaw are fully developed. Depending on the patient, surgery is typically necessary for adults.

The length of time for treatment depends on the severity of the overbite and the treatment method:

  • Braces: 1 to 3years
  • Clear aligners: 9 months to 1 year
  • Surgery: 6 to 8 weeks of recovery

Common treatment options for overbites include:

Tooth Extractions

Orthodontists do not recommend removing permanent teeth in adults. Although, in extreme cases, extractions may be necessary to allow the teeth to move easily.

Braces

Braces move only the teeth to correct an overbite. They don’t fix skeletal overbites. Dental braces that incorporate brackets, elastics, and wires successfully treat most overbites cosmetically. The devices carefully apply pressure to adjust the teeth into the correct alignment.

Braces treatment lasts for 18 months to three years. The use of adjunctive intraoral appliances (Herbst appliance) in conjunction with braces is also common.

Invisalign

If you are looking for a less noticeable overbite treatment option, Invisalign (or another clear aligner brand) might be a good option. Talk with your dentist to see if you are a candidate for treatment and compare costs.

Cervical Pull Headgear and Overbites

In addition to braces, cervical pull headgear may be necessary. This type of headgear consists of a strap that is worn around the neck and attaches to the patient’s braces.

The appliance holds a patient’s upper teeth and jaw in place while the lower jaw shifts forward.

Jaw Surgery (Orthognathic Surgery)

Skeletal overbites in adults can only be corrected with surgery. Jaw surgery for an overbite is the most expensive treatment option (up to $40,000). Adults who have severe overbites and fully developed jaws typically require surgery.

Overbite surgery consists of an exam, X-rays, and general anesthesia administration. Then the jawbone is cut, reshaped, and repositioned by an oral surgeon.

This type of jaw surgery, called orthognathic surgery, requires orthodontic treatment and coordination between the orthodontist and oral surgeon.

Summary

An overbite is a misalignment of the teeth where the upper teeth protrude over the lower teeth. If not corrected during childhood, it can lead to complications, including jaw problems, dental conditions, severe pain, and sleep apnea. 

Causes of an overbite may be genetics, childhood parafunctional habits, or a combination of both. Treatment includes braces, clear aligners, tooth extractions, dental appliance therapy, and jaw surgery.

What’s Next?

The most popular at-home clear aligner kits can be found right here:

Learn about the different brands and what they offer.

Last updated on January 6, 2023
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on January 6, 2023
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Cobourne, Martyn T., and Andrew T. DiBiase. Handbook of Orthodontics. Elsevier, 2016.
  2. Orthodontic Treatment Options.” American Association of Orthodontists.
  3. Venema, J., et al. “Dental side effects of long-term obstructive sleep apnea therapy: a 10-year follow-up study.” Clinical Oral Investigations, SpringerLink, 2019.
  4. Proffit, William R., et al. Contemporary Orthodontics. Elsevier/Mosby, 2019.
  5. Recognizing and Correcting Developing Malocclusions: a Problem-Oriented Approaches to Orthodontics. Wiley, 2015.
  6. Sterling, Evelina Weidman. Your Child’s Teeth: a Complete Guide for Parents. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.
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