Open bite is a common but very treatable jaw misalignment, and although it commonly appears during childhood, plenty of adults have it too. Whether you’re 15, 30, or 65, there’s a good chance your orthodontist will recommend braces, so you’ll want to understand exactly what you’re in for before starting treatment.
In this guide, we’ll get into the details of treating open bite with braces, your braces options, and some alternatives if braces aren’t the right fit for you.
Table of Contents
What Is Open Bite?
Open bite is a jaw misalignment characterized by a visible gap between the upper and lower teeth when biting down. When they hear “open bite,” most people think of an anterior case, which affects the front teeth. However, the condition can also affect the back teeth, called a posterior open bite. It typically appears in children, since it often occurs when the jaw and teeth are developing. However, it can persist into adulthood too, and affects people of all ages.
Although it is rarely a serious medical issue, open bite can cause extra stress and wear on your properly aligned teeth, and decrease the confidence you have in your smile. However, those aren’t the only symptoms. Open bite can also cause:
- Jaw or tooth pain
- Difficulty chewing
- Speech irregularities
If you leave an open bite untreated, it can lead to even more issues. Since it puts uneven stress on your teeth, it can wear down the enamel on certain ones, eventually causing tooth decay, gum disease, cavities, and even tooth loss, as well as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). That’s why it’s important to consult an orthodontist about your open bite as soon as you notice it.
What Causes Open Bite?
Open bite has several possible causes, ranging from developmental to circumstantial. One of the most common is genetics. They dictate the size and shape of your jaw, and if your jaws are incongruent or misshapen, it can cause misalignments. Open bites with genetic roots often appear in children, since they develop as the jaw grows and the teeth erupt. The condition can also stem from thumb sucking or pacifier use past age three.
Although many open bites simply resolve when the baby teeth fall out, others persist into adulthood — typically in cases where the child can’t beat the habits above by the time their adult teeth come in. Additionally, if you experience a jaw injury, it might not heal in the same position, throwing off your alignment.
Can Braces Fix Open Bite?
The short answer: yes. Many orthodontists use braces to treat open bite because they’re sturdy, durable, and can accommodate appliances like elastics or expanders to induce even more complex jaw adjustments. In some cases, they might even supplement treatment with tooth extraction, as overcrowded teeth can interfere with open bite correction.
All that said, keep in mind that open bite can take various forms, each with its own name for the location of the open bite, the number of teeth involved, and the original cause. For mild cases that only affect a few teeth, braces, Invisalign or even home teeth aligners should be enough to close your bite.
If you have a severe skeletal open bite (also called “long face syndrome”), braces’ effectiveness will depend on the type of results you’re after. If you’re seeking a radical transformation of your facial profile, braces may not be able to produce the before-and-after you desire. On the other hand, if you’re set on avoiding jaw surgery, braces can still make a significant difference in your bite and facial appearance.
Types of Braces
Twenty years ago, if you wanted to alter your smile, traditional metal braces were pretty much the only option. However, the orthodontic industry has come a long way in the past couple of decades. Now, you have a whole range of options to choose from. Here are the four main types of braces available today.
Traditional Metal Braces
The end result of a long history of innovation in orthodontia, metal braces in their present form came onto the scene around the mid-1970s. In the decades since, traditional braces have remained orthodontists’ go-to treatment for crafting beautiful smiles.
Though many adults today opt for more discreet straightening appliances — like clear aligners — standard metal braces still have a lot going for them. Treating patients with standard braces doesn’t require an orthodontist to obtain any extra training or purchase special equipment, and those savings mean they can often offer lower prices. Plus, it’s often easier to find an orthodontist who can confidently administer your treatment, as orthodontists typically have the most experience working with metal braces.
Standard braces are also extremely versatile, and better suited for treating complex bite issues than some newer dental technologies. The average cost for braces ranges from $3,000 to $7,000, and treatment typically lasts 18–30 months. Since bite correction is typically more involved than standard teeth straightening, your treatment will likely fall on the higher side of that range, both in terms of cost and duration — but it depends on the severity of your open bite.
3M — the company behind Scotch tape and Post-Its — introduced the first clear braces in 1987. While early models were less effective at adjusting teeth, the technology has come a long way in the past 30+ years. Today, clear braces can match the power of their metal counterparts.
Clear braces work just like metal ones, but offer a sleeker aesthetic that many adults prefer, since the translucent ceramic brackets blend in with the teeth. Although clear braces typically incorporate a metal arch wire, and the brackets are often slightly larger, they’re still less noticeable than metal braces. Some people also find that the ceramic brackets are less sharp and abrasive on the cheeks and gums.
On the downside, not all orthodontists offer clear braces, so it could be difficult to find a provider. Clear braces are also typically around 10%–20% more expensive than metal ones. That said, they have approximately the same treatment duration (18–30 months), and are just as effective in correcting mild-to-moderate cases of open bite.
Unlike clear braces, lingual braces are totally hidden from the rest of the world, since they’re situated behind your teeth instead of in front. You may be thinking, “that’s brilliant, how is this the first I’m hearing of it?” Well, there are a few reasons lingual braces aren’t more popular.
First of all, most orthodontists don’t offer them, since they’re harder to affix and adjust, and they require specialized training and equipment. From the patient perspective, lingual braces can create discomfort around the tongue, which can give you a minor lisp. Maintaining good oral hygiene takes more effort as well, because it’s harder to brush and floss around the brackets.
All that said, lingual braces are generally just as effective as standard braces for correcting opn bite. Given the extra work involved, this option is usually pretty expensive, often costing between $8,000 and $10,000. If your top priority is keeping your treatment completely invisible and you have the financial means to afford it, lingual braces may be the right choice for you.
Six Month Smiles
Six Month Smiles is a unique brand of clear braces that doesn’t require an orthodontist, just a standard family dentist. As the brand name implies, the average treatment plan is around six months, but that’s because they’re only viable for milder cases. Their clear brackets and tooth-colored wires make them one of the least noticeable braces options available.
Six Month Smiles is most effective at treating cases where only the front teeth require significant adjustment. If you have a mild anterior open bite (i.e. one that affects the front teeth alone), Six Month Smiles might be a viable option.
Due to the shorter treatment time, Six Month Smiles is less expensive than other types of braces, averaging between $3,500 and $5,000. Just keep in mind that your treatment may take longer than the advertised six months (since bite issues are more difficult to correct) and be on the higher end of the price range.
What Is It Like to Wear Braces as an Adult?
Regardless of your age or the type of braces you choose, braces can certainly cause some discomfort, especially as your teeth adjust to initial placement and periodic tightening.
To minimize pain and reduce the risk of breaking a bracket, you’ll need to stay away from particularly hard or sticky foods — like chips, taffy or hard candy — as well as habits like nail-biting and gum-chewing. It’s also important to maintain good oral hygiene and use all dental appliances as instructed.
You may perceive some added stigma around getting braces as an adult, but the truth is, it’s a very common treatment at any age. Plus, between ceramic braces, lingual braces, and alternatives like clear aligners, there are more ways than ever to adjust your smile discreetly.
In the end, if open bite treatment is something you’re pursuing for the sake of your own comfort and happiness, it should be easy to remember that the long-term payoff will be well worth the temporary discomfort!
Other Open Bite Treatment Options
While braces are a fantastic option for treating most cases of adult open bite, some people don’t love the idea of wearing braces, or are put off by the price. If that sounds like you, there are a couple of other unobtrusive treatment options available.
In-Office Clear Aligners
When Invisalign was founded in 1997, it started the clear aligner revolution. This treatment uses a series of customized plastic trays to make incremental dental shifts, correcting crowding, spacing, and bite misalignments like open bite. To address more severe issues, doctors might pair the trays with elastics, expanders, or other appliances and procedures. Unlike braces, Invisalign and their competitors are available to standard dentists, not just orthodontists — so you can potentially get your teeth straightened by the same person who cleans them.
The most notable differences between clear aligners and braces is that clear aligners are 1) removable, and 2) much more discreet. Clear aligner trays can shift your teeth and realign your bite about just as quickly as braces, and for approximately the same price ($3,500–$8,000). However, Invisalign isn’t the only option. ClearCorrect, 3M Clarity Aligners, and SureSmile are among several equally effective alternatives.
If you’re interested, learn more about some of the top brands in our guide to the six best clear aligners.
At-Home Clear Aligners
In recent years, companies like SmileDirectClub and Byte have taken the Invisalign model and made it cheaper and more convenient. These companies cut out office visits completely, instead using remote dental teams to analyze your teeth and create your aligners, which they deliver straight to your door. However, without any in-person supervision, these services can only treat mild-to-moderate conditions, and some cases of open bite are too complex for them.
Home aligners are significantly less expensive than braces or Invisalign, with an average price of $1,800–$2,000. The companies that sell home aligners typically provide an opportunity to review your expected results before committing to treatment, so you’ll know exactly what to expect before moving forward. But if everything lines up, home teeth alignment might be a perfect solution for your mild open bite.
If you think at-home aligners might work for your open bite, check out our recommendations for the top five brands.
Beyond Standard Treatment Options
Dentists and orthodontists typically reserve corrective jaw surgery 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 can achieve. In any case, corrective surgery is most often used when standard treatment options won’t work.
This is a pretty significant form of surgery. Besides being expensive, it also comes with a long recovery. Fortunately, many cases of open bite don’t require surgical intervention, and respond well to the options discussed above. If you have a severe open bite, an orthodontist can help you determine if surgery is warranted.
Regardless of the cause or severity of your open bite, your dentist may recommend braces, and for good reason: this long-standing dental technology can produce powerful and sustainable dental transformations. If you’re considering corrective treatment, make sure you choose a physician who’s dedicated to finding a treatment option that reflects your top priorities — whether they’re aesthetic, budgetary, time-sensitive or otherwise.
Remember, open bite is rarely a serious medical concern, so consider your personal desires and holistic well-being when choosing a corrective treatment. We hope this guide provided you with some helpful insight for your future dental decisions!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can an open bite correct itself?
Sometimes a childhood open bite will correct itself after the child has stopped the action that caused it — thumb sucking, excessive pacifier use, tongue thrusting, etc. However, if a case of open bite has persisted into adulthood, it likely won’t go away on its own.
How do you fix an open bite?
Orthodontic treatments like braces and clear aligners can correct certain jaw misalignments, including open bites, but they might not be able to handle severe cases. If orthodontic treatment isn’t an option, your dentist might recommend surgery.
What if I don’t fix my open bite?
If you have a mild open bite, you might not notice many symptoms, but if left untreated, it can cause uneven wear on your enamel, leading to tooth decay, gum disease, cavities, and other oral hygiene issues. You might also experience jaw pain and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
How long does it take to fix an open bite?
It depends on the severity of your case, but it often takes braces or Invisalign 12–30 months to fix an open bite. However, your treatment might fall outside that range. The milder your case, the shorter your timeline usually is.
What are the symptoms of an open bite?
Open bite can cause jaw pain, difficulty chewing, speech impediments, headaches, earaches, and snoring. However, not every case causes every symptom.
What causes open bite?
The most common cause is genetics. Open bite often appears in childhood as a result of irregularities in tooth and jaw development. Habits like thumb sucking and pacifier use past age three can also contribute, as can nail biting, tongue thrusting, or chewing on objects (like pens).
Do open bites need surgery?
Only in rare cases. Many cases of open bite will resolve with an orthodontic treatment like braces or clear aligners. Surgery is only necessary when the misalignment is too severe for orthodontia.
Can an open bite change your face?
Certain cases of skeletal open bite can make your face appear slightly longer, hence the nickname “long face syndrome.” An effective treatment, however, will make your face look more proportional.