Open Bites: Causes and Treatment

An “open bite” is a condition where the teeth don’t close together properly. While some teeth may be hitting correctly, others leave an open space between them. We frequently see dental open bites in the front of the mouth (between the upper and lower front teeth) but they can occur in other areas of the mouth as well.

What Causes an Open Bite?

Dental open bites are typically caused by the physical movement of the teeth, interfering with jaw development and tooth positioning. Common examples of open bites include:

  • Thumb and finger sucking
  • Pacifier use
  • Tongue thrusting (pushing the tongue forward when swallowing)
  • Prolonged sippy cup or bottle use

Having a foreign object inside of the child’s mouth for hours at a time will physically change their growth patterns. In this case, it prevents the upper and lower teeth from being able to physically shut together at the front of their mouth. As a result, their bones grow in a different direction.

Do I Need to be Concerned About My Child’s Open Bite?

Unfortunately, there’s nothing “cute” about having an open bite and it isn’t something your child can simply grow out of. Having a malocclusion (atypical bite) can physically interfere with other important milestones and development.

For example, open bites…

…interfere with speech and language development. You might not think about it, but our mouth relies just as much on our teeth to talk as it does on our lips, cheeks, and tongue. When there is not proper tooth placement-such as when a child is missing their two front teeth-it causes speech impediments or atypical speaking patterns. Although speech therapy may be helpful, the most holistic solution is to address the child’s bite alignment.

…lead to mouth breathing. Open bites are linked with breathing disorders, including snoring, sleep apnea, and mouth breathing. Mouth breathing significantly dries out the teeth, which drastically raises a child’s risk of developing cavities.

…limit dietary choices and cause TMJ pain. When a child cannot bite their front teeth together, they have to find new ways to eat their food. In this case, they bite on the side of their mouth or change the motion of their jaw when chewing. Over time, this can lead to TMJ disorder. But it also limits the ability to eat nutritious foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

…increase the risk of dental emergencies. An open bite can cause the upper front teeth to tilt out more than they should. Normal bumps to the mouth during play or sports put these children at a higher risk of fractured and knocked-out teeth.

…interfere with a child’s confidence. The older your child is and the more they become aware of the shape of their mouth and face, the more likely they are to be embarrassed by their abnormal jaw development.

How is an Open Bite Treated?

Open bite treatment for kids typically consists of a few steps.

1. Address the cause of the open bite. If needed, we can recommend oral appliances to discourage tongue thrusting or thumb sucking. Behavior modification may also be recommended to help “break” pacifier or sippy cup habits.

2. Initiate growth modification. Depending on the age of your child, this could be a temporary oral appliance or removable mouthpiece to adjust the way the jaws are forming and how teeth are growing in. Since children are growing and developing at rapid rates, these early years are the best points in time to address open bites or other malocclusions.

3. Close the bite and reposition teeth. Orthodontic therapy will predictably bring the teeth into the desired alignment within a matter of months.

Visit Our Kids Dentist in Vista

Dr. Houri offers open bite treatment for kids in Vista. If your child has a thumb or finger-sucking habit and you’re starting to notice signs of an open bite, contact our kids dentist in Vista to request an exam. New patients are always welcome!

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