How to help children overcome an overbite or overjet

Posted on July 13, 2022 in Children’s Oral Health

Father holding child daughter both smiling outdoors

Most people’s upper front teeth slightly overlap their lower front teeth. In most cases, it’s so slight that it’s not noticeable. Even when the upper teeth overlap more than normal (overbite) or stick out too far forward (overjet), it’s usually a minor issue that doesn’t need treatment.

It’s a different case for a child who has an excessive overbite or overjet. Here’s why these conditions cause concerns.

What is an overbite and overjet?

An overbite refers to vertically misaligned teeth. The top front teeth overlap the lower teeth when the mouth is closed. Some people refer to this as a “deep bite.”

An overjet is a horizontal misalignment of teeth. The upper front teeth are pushed far forward, extending ahead of the bottom teeth. When excessive, some people call these “buck teeth.”

The primary difference between these two-bite problems is that an overbite focuses on how deep the bite is while an overjet focuses on how far the upper front teeth jut forward.

What causes these conditions?

Heredity is the most common cause of an overbite or overjet. That’s because you inherit the shape and size of your jaws and teeth. For instance, a small lower jaw, influenced in part by genetics, can result in an overbite.

Childhood behaviors can also cause overbites and overjets, including:

  • Thumb sucking or pacifier use past age 3
  • Tongue thrusting where the tongue moves too far forward when swallowing and speaking
  • Prolonged use of a baby bottle 
  • Excessive nail biting 
  • Teeth grinding

While an overbite or overjet can’t always be prevented, you can lower your child’s risk of developing these conditions by curbing the behaviors listed above. 

What problems can an overbite and overjet create? 

An excessive overbite or overjet can cause serious oral health issues, such as:

  • Gum disease
  • Difficulty biting, chewing, or swallowing 
  • Tooth decay in hard-to-clean areas 
  • Jaw issues or temporomandibular disorders (TMD)
  • Difficulty fully opening or closing the mouth 
  • Damage to the teeth, gums and palate 
  • Crowded or crooked teeth 
  • Speech issues 
  • Breathing difficulties 
  • Social concern with appearance

What treatment options are available?

Make sure to take your child to the dentist when teeth first appear or no later than the child’s first birthday. During regular visits, the dentist will monitor your child’s smile for alignment issues.

Around age 7, if an issue is detected, the dentist will likely refer your child to an orthodontist — a dentist who specializes in tooth and jaw alignment. The severity of the condition and how the child’s permanent teeth, jaws and face are developing will determine what treatment is recommended and how soon the treatment will begin.

Overbites and overjets are often best corrected during puberty, while facial bones are still growing. This is most often accomplished with:

  • Traditional braces, consisting of metal brackets placed on teeth and connected by wire
  • Invisible aligners, a series of replaceable clear plastic retainers that move teeth like traditional braces
  • Dental appliances, such as a palatal expander to widen the roof of the mouth to make room for all teeth

In more serious cases, jaw surgery may be required to treat the issue, although this solution is more commonly used for adults.

Overbites and overjets are very treatable. Make sure to discuss any concerns you have about the development of your child’s teeth with their dentist. In addition to speaking with your child’s dentist, be sure to review your dental benefits to see what is covered by your plan.