Understanding underbites

Early intervention can help children avoid painful surgery

Approximately 3 percent of the population suffers from an underbite, a condition that affects both health and appearance.  If they get treament early, they can bypass complicated surgery later in life.

In mid 2011, Andrea Werle noticed something unusual about her 4-year-old son, Jack.

"It dawned on me one day that I had never seen his front teeth," she said.

Werle brought it to the attention of her pediatric dentist.
"He took a look at it and said 'We're gonna have a lot of fun with Jack', and he laughed," she said.

Jack was diagnosed with a class 3 malocclusion, in layman's terms, an underbite.

Pediatric dentist Dr. Jimmy Bennett said an underbite can be the result of genetics or an obstructed airway.

"If you can't breathe through your nose you have to position your mouth in a different way, so you're basically throwing your jaw forward and creating that deviation. Then there's genetics and you can't really run away from mother nature," he said.

Left untreated, the lower jaw can jut forward in a position that leads to jaw pain, headaches, difficulty swallowing and early tooth decay.

Once a child hits their teen years, the only option for correction is an extensive and painful procedure to reposition the jaw, but Bennett is having success through early intervention with functional appliances that re-direct jaw growth.

"With Jack, he has what we call a reverse-pull head gear or profile enhancer. It's two braces, one on the forehead, one on the chin, and it has rubber bands attached to an appliance inside the mouth and they come out to the appliance and it just brings that upper jaw forward," said Bennett.

A device inserted in the roof of the mouth also helps expand the upper jaw, allowing for proper alignment of the lower jaw.

"We've already seen great improvement. Our last check up, we found out not only are his teeth finally touching each other, we can also stop increasing the width of his jaw," said Werle.

Children with underbites need to be monitored closely until they're completely done growing, which for some can mean through college.