Every culture has its own standard of beauty, even when it comes to our smiles.
The perception of beauty comes in many forms. We may be familiar with the perfect-looking teeth of Hollywood stars. However, we’re probably less aware that sharply filed teeth are considered attractive for the Mentawai people of Indonesia or that there is a “snaggletooth” trend in Japan. Regardless of your perspective, our mouths are an important part of our image.
Why does it matter? Global trendsetters don’t just set the pace for fashion and beauty; they may set standards that aren’t realistic or are even dangerous.
For example, says Charles Sutera, FAGD, sharpening your teeth into fangs is extremely harmful to the health and longevity of your teeth because you’re filing away the protective enamel. You can be opening yourself up to sensitivity, more cavities, and yellowing of your teeth.
Japan’s “snaggletooth” (yaeba) look is achieved by either realigning the canine teeth so that they overlap or gluing prosthetic teeth—often shaped more like fangs–on top. It’s a unique look for sure, but it may come with consequences. “Any time the alignment of the teeth is overcrowded, it encourages bacteria growth in hard-to-reach areas,” says Dr. Sutera. “It also can cause a misalignment that throws off the natural movement of your jaw.”
And trying to achieve the perfect Hollywood smile can cause you a world of hurt if you go about it the wrong way. You could weaken your enamel, burn your gums, and end up with a mouth full of pain.
Keeping Things Straight
Dr. Sutera says that there is one thing the “perfect Hollywood smile” gets right: alignment.
No, not the perfectly straight teeth – though he notes that straight teeth are, indeed, healthier.
But teeth and jaws that are in harmonious alignment are the foundation of a healthy and pain-free mouth. And anything that may cause them to be misaligned can open you up to oral and other health concerns.
This is why something that many may see as strictly a cosmetic issue is actually a health concern: overbite.
Also known as “deep bite,” Dr. Sutera says that overbite becomes a health issue when it’s excessive—more than 2-3mm.
When an overbite measures too far out of the normal average, it causes an abnormal alignment of the upper and lower teeth when your jaws are closed (malocclusion). According to Dr. Sutera, that’s when it’s best to consider improving it.
Is Overbite Nature or Nurture?
An overbite can be a “family trait” that you inherit. But it’s also a condition you can develop over time, even as an adult. In children, thumb sucking can lead to this condition; in adults, excessive nail biting can gradually bring your teeth out of alignment.
An untreated overbite can result in functional problems, including:
- Tooth damage, decay, and loss. Because misaligned teeth may be hitting in odd places, you can experience thinning enamel, which can lead to tooth decay, tooth fracture, and tooth loss.
- Gum damage and disease. If your overbite is severe enough for teeth to come into contact with the gum line, it can cause gum recession and gum disease.
- Difficulty speaking. Our front teeth play a large role in forming various words, particularly with “f” and “s” sounds. When someone has a drastic overbite, it sometimes can affect pronunciation.
- Sleep apnea. Studies show that if overbite is preventing the lower jaw from entering into a relaxed forward position when sleeping, it contributes to sleep apnea.
- Jaw pain from TMD. A misaligned jaw can result in chronic jaw pain and headaches and may contribute to the development of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD).
Noting that an overbite is caused by a combination of both skeletal (such as the shape of the jaw) and dental (such as the position of the teeth) characteristics, Dr. Sutera offered the following recommendations.
“For children, the name of the game is prevention. Because a child is still growing, both the skeletal and dental causes of an overbite can be addressed. So, in children, treatment has to do with guiding the growth to improve it.
“When it comes to adults, the skeletal structure is fixed, so treatment cannot leverage the power of growth. In adults, an overbite is improved by adjusting the alignment of the teeth.”
Here are some techniques that your dentist or orthodontist may suggest:
Treatment in Children and Teens
- Removal of baby teeth to make space to improve the position in the adult teeth
- Growth modification device such as headgear or a palate expander to help guide the bones of the jaw to grow in a more ideal proportion
- Braces to apply gentle pressure to the teeth and improve the position of the teeth and jaw
- Retainers to hold a position so that the overbite does not change during growth or from other behavioral factors
Treatment in Adults
- Invisalign and Braces under the direction of a dentist or orthodontist to move the teeth into a more favorable position
- Teeth extraction if the teeth are excessively crowded, to make space for the rest of the mouth
- Surgery only if the overbite is excessively mal-positioned (less than 1% of cases).