Open bite is a type of malocclusion in which a vertical gap is visible from a frontal view of the mouth. Although less common than other misalignments such as overbite, open bite is still very treatable in adults and adolescents alike. Many people with open bite decide to pursue corrective treatment in adulthood in order to feel more comfortable with their smile.
If this sounds like you, you’re in luck: these days, there are a number of viable treatment methods available for folks seeking to correct bite issues quickly, discreetly, and without breaking the bank. With this in mind, let’s discuss what open bite is, what causes it, and the most effective ways to correct it.
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What is Open Bite?
Characterized by a visible space between the upper and lower teeth when looking at the mouth from a frontal view, open bite is most commonly used to describe a malocclusion of the front teeth. However, open bite can technically occur anywhere in the dental arches, even in the molars.
In addition to its various locations, open bite also varies in nature: dental open bite refers to a misalignment of the teeth alone, while skeletal open bite refers to misalignment of the jaw. While both types are treatable, there are more options available for correcting open bites that are purely dental in nature.
Open bite is sometimes confused with overjet, a bite issue caused by the horizontal protrusion of the upper teeth. Overjet leaves a gap between the upper and lower arches that is most visible from a side-view (rather than a frontal view) of the mouth.
That said, given that it comes in a wide range of forms, it’s possible for open bite to exist alongside another bite or spacing issue. If you’re unsure exactly what condition(s) you’re dealing with, it’s a good idea to get checked out by a dentist before shopping around for treatment options so you can go into this process fully informed.
What Causes Open Bite?
Open bite most often has behavioral origins, such as excessive pacifier use, thumbsucking, and tongue thrusting in childhood. The pressure these behaviors apply to the teeth and gums while the jaw is still forming leads to the most common type of open bite, characterized by a gap between the upper and lower incisors (the 4 front teeth of each dental arch). Although many open bites simply resolve when the baby teeth fall out, others persist into adulthood — typically in cases where the child is not able to beat the habits above by the time their adult teeth start coming in.
Skeletal open bite, on the other hand, is hereditary in origin. Also called “long face syndrome”, this type of open bite occurs when the jaws grow apart from one another, resulting in excessive vertical development of the face and jaw. In some cases, open bite can be both skeletal and dental in nature (i.e. when a child with an inherited malocclusion intensifies the problem by engaging in behaviors such as tongue thrusting).
Is It a Medical Issue?
It depends. Although many cases of open bite don’t require medical intervention, even a mild case can cause some dental issues later on. Having an open bite places excessive stress on the teeth that are touching properly, which erodes the enamel more quickly and puts you at higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease down the road. Some people also develop a lisp or other speech disorder, or experience jaw pain, headaches, and difficulty chewing. If your open bite causes you any type of discomfort, or keeps you from feeling totally happy with your smile, corrective treatment may be the right route for you.
Top 4 Ways to Correct Open Bite
If you’ve decided as an adult that it’s time to consider correcting your open bite, don’t fret! No matter what you’ve heard, it’s possible to treat open bite at any age, whether it was caused by thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, or even excessive vertical jaw development. In any case, you’ll need to work with a dentist to determine the best treatment method for your unique teeth.
With all this in mind, let’s discuss the 4 best ways to correct open bite:
Traditional braces are quite effective at treating many types of open bite. In addition to dental correction, braces can also achieve a degree of skeletal realignment when paired with elastics, bite blocks, and other specialized appliances. The main downside of braces is their visibility, since most adults favor treatment options that are less conspicuous. However, if this is not a concern for you, braces are an excellent solution, often working more quickly than other correction methods.
In some cases, tooth extraction may be used in conjunction with braces to help deal with overcrowded teeth. When teeth are removed, this allows the jaw to relax into a more natural position, after which braces can work to move the teeth into alignment. Treatment with braces typically ranges 18-30 months, with costs averaging $3,000-$7,000.
Known for having pioneered the world’s first clear, removable teeth aligners, Invisalign is another viable treatment option for many cases of adult open bite. Over the years, this technology has evolved to be able to produce results quite similar to traditional braces.
Like braces, Invisalign treatment can be paired with tooth extraction and additional dental appliances to help correct bite issues. However, unlike braces, Invisalign can be provided by a standard dentist (rather than an orthodontist), so there’s a good chance your treatment can be administered at the same place you go to get your teeth cleaned.
Of course, the most notable differences between these treatment methods is that Invisalign is 1) removable, and 2) much more discreet than traditional braces. Invisalign clear aligner trays are able to shift your teeth and realign your bite about equally as quickly as braces, and for approximately the same price (between $3,500-$8,000).
3) Home Teeth Aligners
While Invisalign remains the best-known option for removable teeth aligners, there are many others available today. In the past few years, a number of online companies like Smile Direct Club have entered the industry to provide a more affordable option for adults seeking to straighten their teeth or correct minor bite issues from home.
Similar to the Invisalign treatment process, you’ll receive a set of clear, removable aligners customized to your teeth by a dental professional — but unlike Invisalign, your care will be handled entirely remotely and not require any trips to the dentist’s office.
Home alignment products tend to be significantly less expensive than braces or Invisalign, with an average cost of between $1,800-$2,000. The companies that sell home aligners typically provide an opportunity to review your expected results before purchasing a full course of treatment, so you’ll know exactly what to expect before moving forward. All in all, if you have a minor case of open bite, home teeth alignment may be a perfectly viable option for you.
To learn more, we encourage you to read our review of the top 5 home teeth aligners.
4) Corrective Jaw Surgery
Corrective jaw surgery should be reserved for severe cases of skeletal open bite in which the patient is seeking a radical transformation of the face and jaw. This procedure involves shaving down excess bone in the upper jaw to create a more significant adjustment to one’s bite and facial appearance than braces or clear aligners can achieve. In any case, corrective surgery is most often used when standard treatment options are unable to produce sufficient results.
This is a pretty significant form of surgery. In addition to being quite expensive, it can also take a while to recover from. Fortunately, many cases of open bite don’t require surgical intervention, and can be effectively handled using one of the options discussed above. If you have a severe open bite, an orthodontist can help you determine if surgery is warranted.
Open bite can take a variety of forms and characterizations: anterior, posterior, lateral, skeletal and so on — but don’t let all the technical jargon intimidate you. In reality, having an open bite is quite common, often harmless, and doesn’t make you any less awesome.
That said, if your open bite causes you physical discomfort or prevents you from living a full and happy life in any way, corrective treatment is totally possible and worth pursuing. Just make sure you choose a physician who’s dedicated to finding the treatment option that best reflects your top priorities, whether they’re aesthetic, budgetary, time-sensitive or otherwise. We hope this guide provided you with some helpful insight for your future dental decisions!