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Open Bite Treatment
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    An open bite is a malocclusion, or an abnormal bite, in which some teeth--usually the front teeth--cannot be brought into contact with the opposing teeth. An open bite usually involves abnormalities in the structure of the jaw. You can actually see inside a person's mouth when she is biting down if she has an open bite.

    What Causes an Open Bite?
    Certain oral habits, such as thumb-sucking and tongue-thrusting, can create a malformation in the upper and lower jaws that prevents them from growing in such a way that the teeth come together. Genetics can also play a role. Certain speech impediments, such as lisping, can contribute to the problem, as well. An open bite itself can create the speech impediment, and sometimes it is difficult to know which developed first.

    How Common Is Open Bite?
    This type of malocclusion is uncommon, affecting a very small percentage of the general population.

    Aside from Cosmetic Concerns, Why Should an Open Bite Be Treated?
    An open bite should be corrected because it usually affects the functioning of the mouth. People with an open bite cannot, for example, sheer off the lettuce in a sandwich when they bite into it. Also, most people's speech is much improved after their open bite is corrected.

    Another important reason to fix an open bite is to prevent or alleviate temporo-mandibular joint disorder (TMJ); the misaligned jaw exerts excess pressure on the jaw joint. TMJ can lead to head and cheek pain, a clicking or popping sound each time you open and close your mouth, limited range of motion of the jaw joint, and other symptoms.

    What Is the Treatment for Open Bite?
    Treatment for open bite is somewhat tricky because it often requires changing the jaw structure. Most adults and some children with open bite need surgery. Typically, surgery is confined to the upper jaw.

    The surgical procedure used most often is "maxillary impaction," in which the upper jaw is realigned so the bite can close normally. Braces are usually placed on the teeth several months prior to surgery so all the teeth can be leveled and aligned before the jaw is realigned. Orthodontic work continues after surgery to create an ideal bite.

    If the open bite is minor, it can usually be corrected with braces alone.

    If tongue-thrusting contributed to the open bite, the patient may also need to wear a functional appliance. This fixed or removable plastic and wire device is placed in the mouth for several months. It "retrains" the tongue so it no longer thrusts forward each time the patient swallows. If the tongue is not retrained, it can undo what you are trying to accomplish through surgery and orthodontics.

    If a child is still sucking his thumb or fingers, parents should seek help to break him of that habit prior to treatment. Otherwise, like tongue-thrusting, finger-sucking can reduce the treatment's effectiveness.

    How Long Does the Treatment for an Open Bite Last?
    Length of treatment varies depending on severity of the open bite. Typically, treatment lasts 1 1/2 to 2 years, including any surgery that might be necessary.

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