If you have a bite issue as an adult, then you’re in good company. Whether it’s an overbite, an underbite, overjet, or another issue, bite issues happen often.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you should know about underbite, including its common causes and the best treatment options for adults.
What is Underbite?
Underbite is a fairly common condition in which the bottom row of teeth overlap the top ones. In the dental community, it’s usually referred to as “prognathism.” For most people, underbite is relatively minor (some people might not even know they have one). Typically, the tooth overlap is minimal.
Underbite can be caused by several different factors. For a lot of people, it’s just genetics. That’s how their jaw was formed at birth. Childhood habits like thumb-sucking or pushing the tongue against the teeth can contribute to it, too. After all, for much of childhood, the jaws and teeth are still relatively soft. Over time, even gentle movements like sucking on a thumb can shift the teeth some.
How Do I Know if I Have an Underbite?
Sometimes, you can spot an underbite yourself. If you bite down on your molars (so the back molars line up), where do your front teeth end up? Do they line up exactly? Do the top teeth come over the bottom? Do the bottom teeth come over the edge of the top teeth? If your bottom teeth are further forward than the top ones or if they actually overlap, then you have an underbite.
Of course, this isn’t a scientific method. And in some cases, you won’t be able to spot it yourself. Your dentist will be able to tell you for sure, and more importantly, they’ll tell you if it’s a problem you need to correct.
Do I Need to Correct My Underbite?
Typically, an underbite can be left alone without problems. In fact, it rarely causes medical issues. So if you decide not to get treatment, you probably won’t even notice any issues. That said, there are a couple negatives.
Look at it this way: in the rare, perfectly-aligned jaw, the top row of teeth sits right over your bottom teeth. They balance each other out, so there’s no grinding or strain. But when the teeth don’t line up exactly, grinding can occur. Over time, the enamel does wear down more than it would in a normal smile. In the most extreme cases, this causes discomfort, and occasionally, bacteria builds up in the gaps created by the bite.
Treating an underbite can help alleviate these (admittedly minor) issues, but it’s rarely a medical necessity. For most people, the benefit of correcting their smile is aesthetic.
Treating Adult Underbite 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 underbite, 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 underbite 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.
But for those with a minor underbite, 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 underbite depends on two factors: how severe your case is and what caused your underbite to begin with. Technically, there are two types of underbite. The first is caused by improper positioning of the teeth. The other type of underbite occurs when your jaw—the bone itself—is misshapen or out of position.
Understandably, it’s much harder to change bone structure. Your teeth can be shifted much more easily. Fortunately, there are proven methods to correct both your bones and your teeth. Let’s talk about the top methods for correcting your underbite.
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 underbite, braces will be able to handle your case—even if your underbite 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 underbites 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 underbite. 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 underbite. 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?
Underbite is a fairly common dental issue, and it rarely causes long-term problems. But if you want to perfect your grin by treating your underbite, 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 underbite, 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!