If you have a bite issue as an adult, then you’re in good company. Whether it’s an overbite, an underbite, open bite, or another issue, bite issues happen often. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you should know about open bite, including its common causes and the best treatment options for adults.
What is Open Bite?
Malocclusion (poorly aligned teeth) takes many forms, and for some people, it takes the form of an open bite. In an open bite, there is a vertical gap between the top and bottom row of teeth. How big the gap is and where it occurs varies from one person to another. The most common type of open bite typically manifests at the front and center of the smile.
There are two types of open bite: dental open bite and skeletal open bite. Typically, dental open bite is caused by childhood behaviors like thumbsucking or excessive use of a pacifier long after the teeth have emerged. Essentially, those activities put added pressure on the four top front teeth, pushing them up and away from the bottom row of teeth. This kind of open bite often corrects itself when the baby teeth fall out, but not always.
Skeletal open bite is typically hereditary; essentially, the jaws grow apart from each other. That’s why it’s sometimes called “long face syndrome.” Kids with skeletal open bites may make their case worse by sucking a thumb or a pacifier.
How Do I Know if I Have an Open Bite?
If you have an open bite, you may be able to tell just by looking at your smile (unless it’s extremely minor). If you bite down on your molars (so your back teeth line up), do your front teeth contact your bottom teeth? Or is there a visible gap? If there are a few teeth that don’t touch the teeth below them, forming a visible gap, then you have some type of open bite.
Of course, this isn’t a scientific method to identify an open bite. And if you have a really minor open bite, you might not be able to spot it yourself. To know for sure, you’ll need to consult with your dentist. They will determine if you have an open bite, and if so, what kind of open bite it is.
Sometimes, open bite gets confused with another bite condition, overjet. However, overjet is a bit different; in overjet, the top teeth point outwards, creating a horizontal gap. In open bite, the top teeth still point downwards like they’re supposed to, but they don’t touch the bottom teeth in at least one spot, making an opening. Usually overjet is visible from the profile view; open bite is imperceptible from the side but visible from a frontal view.
Do I Need to Correct My Open Bite?
Ultimately, it depends on the severity of your case. A lot of people choose to treat their open bite because it can cause complications down the road. For example, the teeth that do connect experience additional stress and force that they aren’t designed to take. That strain can wear down your enamel, causing tooth decay and gum disease. People with severe open bites can also experience jaw pain and speech disorders like a lisp. Chewing can also be a challenge.
Because of these issues, a lot of people choose to treat their open bite. If nothing else, treating your open bite will improve the aesthetics of your smile. But how you choose to treat your open bite is an important decision, and we want you to be fully informed. So let’s talk about your options.
Treating Adult Open Bite From Home
Invisalign was the first company to introduce clear aligners, but they didn’t have a monopoly for long. Several other companies created their own clear aligner trays. At first, these Invisalign competitors were only available through a dentist or an orthodontist. But by 2014, companies like Smile Direct Club cut out the middleman and provided home-based clear aligners directly to the consumer.
If you choose to use home teeth aligners to correct your open bite, here’s what you can expect. Instead of having an initial consultation with your orthodontist, you’ll order an impression kit and create 3D molds of your teeth. The home teeth aligner company you choose uses those molds to confirm that you’re a candidate for treatment. And if you are, they’ll create a set of custom aligners for you. By wearing each aligner for the prescribed amount of time, you’ll be able to gradually shift your teeth into their new positions.
That’s the same principle as Invisalign, really. But there are a few differences to note. For one thing, at-home teeth aligners can only treat minor-to-moderate cosmetic cases. They can’t add on elastics and attachments like Invisalign does. So if your open bite is severe, then home teeth aligners can’t correct it.
Most at-home aligner providers are focused on moving the front six upper and lower teeth (otherwise known as “the social six”). The exception to this is Candid, which is the only at-home aligner provider able to move your molars. This allows them to treat slightly more complex cases than their competitors, though still limited when compared to in-office options.
For those with a minor open bite, home teeth aligners are much cheaper than Invisalign. They’re typically faster, too.
Other Treatment Options: Braces, Invisalign & Surgery
The best treatment method for your open bite depends on several factors. For one thing, the severity of your open bite—how wide the gap is—affects what treatment methods you’ll be a candidate for. And like we mentioned earlier, open bite can be caused by both teeth positioning and your jaw bone itself. Typically, there is a wider variety of treatment methods for dental open bites than for skeletal ones. But both types are treatable, even for adults.
The home teeth aligners we just discussed can typically treat milder cases of open bite. But for severe open bites (with either an extremely wide gap or a gap caused by the jaw’s position), home teeth aligners usually won’t cut it. You’ll need more powerful methods.
Braces often get a bad wrap for being uncomfortable, ugly, and pricey. And technically, those are all true criticisms. The wires and brackets used in braces can cut into your cheeks and gums (especially when they’re first installed). And braces typically cost around $5,000.
But despite those downsides, braces are still around today for a good reason. They’re the most universally-accepted method to straighten your teeth. And when it comes to correcting your open bite, braces will be able to handle your case—even if your open bite is caused by your bone structure.
As a whole, braces allow for more nuanced movements thanks to metal appliances and elastics. Over the course of your treatment (which usually lasts between 1.5-2 years), your orthodontist can gradually move both your teeth and your jaw into perfect alignment.
Invisalign first entered the teeth alignment scene just before 2000. And when they did, they really shook things up by correcting two of the biggest complaints about braces: ugliness and discomfort. Instead of using wires and brackets, Invisalign uses clear trays molded to your teeth. The trays are nearly invisible, and there’s no metal in your mouth to cut up your cheeks.
That said, you will still experience some discomfort while wearing your Invisalign aligners. That’s inevitable when you’re shifting your teeth from their positions. And Invisalign isn’t really any faster or cheaper than traditional braces; the average cost is also around $5,000. So if you’re looking for the fastest method to treat your bite issue, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Like braces, Invisalign can treat most open bites regardless of the cause. That’s because Invisalign uses proprietary SmartForce attachments and elastics in addition to your aligner trays. Those extras allow for the nuanced movements necessary to treat both your jaw and your teeth.
Corrective surgery is definitely the most drastic method on this list, but fortunately, for most people, it’s not necessary. Your care provider will only recommend surgery if all the other options we’ve discussed will not correct your open bite. If you go this route, your surgeon will shift your jaw into alignment by force.
Understandably, surgery is the most expensive method to correct an open bite. It will also cause you the most discomfort (especially up front). The recovery time is significant, and in many cases, you’ll need to adjust your eating habits for a while. Surgery isn’t right for everyone. But it’s certainly the most powerful method.
Which Treatment Option Is Right For You?
Open bite is a fairly common dental issue, and it rarely causes long-term problems. But if you want to perfect your grin by treating your open bite, then you’re in good company.
Everyone’s smile is unique, including all the charms and imperfections. And a unique smile needs a unique treatment. What works to treat one person won’t necessarily be right for you. But if you decide to treat your open bite, odds are you’ll be able to use braces, Invisalign, or home teeth aligners to get the results you want. We hope this guide will help you make the decision that’s right for you!