What is an underbite?

Updated November 20, 2023
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Do you have an underbite?

Very few dental patients have naturally perfect teeth. You may have heard others say they have an “underbite”. One of the most commonly seen dental alignment concerns is an underbite, which affects about 5 to 10% of the population. An underbite is when the lower jaw protrudes past the upper teeth. This is the opposite of an “overbite,” which is another commonly seen dental concern.

For many patients, an underbite is not strictly a cosmetic concern, as it can lead to other dental issues such as clicking or jaw pain, grinding of teeth, worn-away tooth enamel, or possible tooth decay. In an ideal situation, the top front teeth of a patient’s mouth should slightly overlap the bottom teeth. 

What Causes an Underbite?

Unfortunately, underbites are out of a person’s control, as they are usually related to genetics. This does not mean that it can’t be corrected with proper orthodontic treatment. If you have an overbite, you may notice that other family members have it as well, due to the genetic component. In some instances, underbites could be caused by a physical event that occurred in childhood, such as thumb sucking, mouth breathing, or bad chewing habits. Some research has also shown that particular ethnic origins are more likely to have an underbite.

Problems Associated with an Underbite

As previously mentioned, oftentimes, there are other non-cosmetic concerns associated with an underbite. The problems typically correlate with the severity of the underbite. Some commonly seen problems include speaking issues, difficulties with eating, jaw pain, head or earaches, chronic mouth breathing, or sleep apnea. Having misaligned teeth can lead to an increased chance for bacteria to grow, leading to frequent gum disease or infections. The misaligned teeth can also lead to tooth decay or breakage, which is when the enamel of your teeth becomes excessively worn and ultimately weakened.

These problems can be frustrating for patients, especially when they are associated with increased and frequent infections or chronic jaw pain. However, with proper orthodontic treatment, it can be permanently fixed.

When Should Underbite be Treated?

When it comes to treating underbites, the sooner, the better. This is because children’s jaws are still developing, and therefore can more easily be manipulated. This is why we recommend proper orthodontic evaluation for children, generally around age seven. However, treatment in adults is still possible and effective, yet it will sometimes be more invasive or aggressive to ensure results. Treatment options vary, as we will discuss in the next section.

Treatment Options for Underbites

There are several different treatment options for Underbites. Consultation from an orthodontic specialist can help you identify which treatment method is best suited to your lifestyle and the severity of the condition. Treatment will vary depending on the degree and severity of overbite and also if the treatment is for a child or an adult.

Underbite Treatment for Children

  • Braces: Braces are commonly used to correct an underbite. Either traditional metal braces or clear aligners can be used in these situations.
  • Upper Jaw Expander: This is a wire frame that is placed on the upper roof of a patient’s mouth. These are sometimes called upper jaw or palatal expanders. This device uses a special “key” which the patient or parent can turn to gradually widen the top jaw until the lower teeth close against the outside of the upper teeth. Generally, upper jaw expanders take around one year to complete treatment.
  • Reverse-Pull Face Masks: This type of headgear wraps around the head and attaches to metal bands on the back upper teeth to ultimately pull the upper jaw forward.
  • Chin Caps– Chin caps restrict the growth of the lower jaw in children.

Underbite Treatments for Adults

Adult treatment for underbites can differ from the methods listed above used in children.

  • Tooth extraction: This can relieve the pressure of overcrowding and cause a natural relaxation of the jaw. This method is often used in mild to moderate cases of underbite. 
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery can be done to pull the upper jaw forward or pull the lower jaw back. Jaw surgery is frequently performed and considered a low-risk surgery, typically with a six to twelve-week healing time, on average.

Do you have questions about underbites? Give us a call at Southern Orthodontic Specialists to schedule a consultation. We are located in two convenient locations in both Collierville, TN, or Southaven, MS, to meet you or your child’s orthodontic needs. We specialize in a variety of orthodontic treatments and are trained in evaluating and treating underbite conditions.


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