How to tell if you have an under or overbite.

Medically Reviewed by a
Licensed DDS

Table of Contents

  1. Spot an Overbite
  2. Spot an Underbite
  3. Expert Assistance
  4. References

You know your own body. You know what size shoes fit your feet, and you know whether shirts hanging on a rack will slide right over your frame. But do you know if your front and lower teeth meet perfectly?

Overbite and underbite describe the relationship between upper and lower jaws. Typically, a dentist or orthodontist diagnoses this condition. But you can spot signs of trouble at home.

When you do, you can choose what to do to improve your smile.

How to spot an overbite.

Almost everyone has an overbite. The term describes upper incisors that nest over lower incisors. Even perfect mouths share this trait. But when there's a gap involved, signs of trouble appear.

Detect an overbite with:

A Side View
Push your teeth together, peel your lips back, and use your phone to take a photo of your side smile. Are your front teeth hanging out far above your lower teeth?
Your Fingers
Experts say overbite issues appear when gaps of 3 millimeters or more appear between upper and lower teeth. Can you push a fingertip or thumb in the gap between upper and lower teeth?
Your Tongue
Upper jaws push forward when overbites appear. Move your tongue to touch your back molars. Are the lower teeth connecting with anything, or are they touching only air?

Dental professionals split overbites into two classes. Class 1 is the most common, experts say, and it involves a slight overlap. Class 2 involves a severe overlap.

No measurements or specific designations separate the two. Doctors make the determination based on experience.

Overbite and underbite describe the relationship between upper and lower jaws and typically, a dentist or orthodontist diagnoses this condition, but you can spot signs of trouble at home.

How to spot an underbite.

Lower teeth should nest nicely behind upper teeth. When they don't, the term underbite applies.

Detect an underbite with:

A Mirror
Tap your teeth together, pull your lips back, and look into the mirror. Can you see you see your upper teeth, or are the lower ones in the way?
Your Fingers
Close your lips, and use your index finger to rub along your teeth. Are you feeling the tops of your lower teeth?
Photos
When you smile in photographs, do you look a little like a bulldog?
Anyone with lower teeth that shoot out over upper teeth has an underbite. Experts say there is no classification or grading system for this disorder. You either have it, or you don't.

When can an expert help?

Experts say that there's no specific metric that separates mild misalignment from severe cases. You won't walk into a doctor's office and get turned away because the gap is too small or insignificant. But those designations matter.

Some insurance companies place orthodontic work into two groups.

Cosmetic
Teeth are slightly out of alignment, but the issue mainly involves looks and not function.
Medical
Teeth are so crooked that they cause injury or an inability to speak or eat.

Insurance companies that offer these designations may pay for medical correction, but they'll expect you to cover the entire cost of cosmetic work. And that cost can be significant.

Braces come with a $5,000+ price tag. Aligners, on the other hand, can cost less than half as much.

They both work on the same principle. Devices apply gentle pressure to teeth, and slowly, they glide them into new positions. Follow directions and wear the devices as specified, and your lower teeth and upper teeth can take up non-conflicting spots within your mouth.

It's best to treat problems as soon as you see them, says the American Association of Orthodontists. A clear bite is critical for speech, eating, and comfort. The sooner you can solve the problem, the better. And there's no shame in asking several doctors if you can't get the help you want.

For example, in a 2014 study, 52 percent of students were deemed in need of overbite/underbite treatment by doctors. And yet, 86 percent of students wanted help with their teeth.

A twist and turn of one or two teeth can blur your confidence, and treatment with aligners could help to ease the problem. Don't be afraid to keep asking questions and looking for the help you need to get the smile you always wanted.

References.

What Are Misaligned Teeth and Jaws? (January 2020). InformedHealth.org.

Malocclusion of Teeth. (April 2020). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Malocclusion. Children's Hospital St. Louis.

7 Common Bite Problems in Children and Adults. (March 2019). American Association of Orthodontists.

Malocclusion Diagnosis: Normative Criteria and Self-Perception of Adolescents. (July 2015). Brazilian Research in Pediatric Dentistry and Integrated Clinic.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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