How Eating Utensils Caused the Overbite

Kitchen utensils from Pompeii. Photo courtesy of University of South Florida.

The cavemen may have had it right when it came to how best to eat food to protect your teeth.

Before the invention of forks and spoons, people did not have overbites, according to anthropologist C. Loring Brace’s research. Previously, humans had a straight bite similar to that of a guillotine. They would clench a piece of meat or hard food between their jaws to then rip off a bite with their hand or knife. Brace calls this method of eating the “stuff-and-cut.” While this kept teeth and jawbones in line for our ancestors, that is not the case today.

Originally, it was thought that the overbite came from a gradual, evolutionary change in the human jaw beginning approximately 12,000 years ago. However, in 1977 Brace found that theory to be false. Brace discovered that the Chinese developed an overbite 900 years before the Europeans did – which was also the same time the chopsticks began being used, according to a Business Insider article about Brace’s findings. Once the Europeans began using the knife and fork (900 years later) they quickly developed the overbite as well. This link between utensils being used and when the overbite occurred in the two communities suggests the change in chewing methods and utensils has been the cause of a serious change in our oral health.

People now cut chewy food into smaller morsels before eating it with their back teeth, thus putting less stress on their jaw muscles. This method has created a lazy way to eat that does not allow our jaw muscles to be exercised to the fullest extent. Our jawbones are soft and easily moveable as children if not exercised properly. The lack of muscle in the jaw leads to the misalignment we know to be an overbite.

Utensils Aren’t Entirely Bad

While the invention of forks, spoons and knives led to changes in our bite and alignment, the creation of cooking pots helped humans survive. Until pottery was invented, those who lost their teeth would not live much longer. Pots created nutritious stews that did not require chewing to be eaten; the meal could instead be sipped. This liquid diet allowed the toothless to continue living for much longer than before.

These common cooking utensils have had a tremendous effect on our dental health, positively and negatively, it seems!

What is Overbite?

An overbite is a type of misalignment where the upper teeth overlap the lower teeth more than 5 mm. This disorder has become so common that it accounts for approximately 70 percent of dental disorders in children. While most people view it as simply aesthetically unpleasant, there are many side effects that can cause severe damage.

  • Food chewing difficulties – if your teeth are not properly aligned, this can cause issues with chewing food. Not being able to properly chew food can lead to choking hazards.
  • Mouth breathing- if the overbite is severe enough that you can’t comfortably keep your lips closed, you can’t easily breathe through your nose. Mouth breathing can lead to a host of other oral health and dentofacial development issues.
  • Damage to roof of mouth – An overbite could lead to the scraping of the lower teeth along the roof of your mouth, which could cause bleeding, painful sores, and event gum recession.
  • Increased risk of cavities and gum disease –an overbite could cause your teeth scrape against one another, which increases the wear and tear on your tooth enamel. Once that enamel breaks down, your teeth become more susceptible to sensitivity, cavities and gum disease.
  • Jawbone stress – overbites can create stress and tension along the jawbone and temporomandibular joint, which could lead to migraine headaches.
    Speech impediments – proper positioning of teeth helps us to speak properly. If the teeth are out of alignment in an overbite, a lisp or other speech impediment may occur.

Despite the benefits of cooking utensils, no one should have to suffer those side effects. Although it is easiest to correct overbite in a child’s mouth while the teeth and bones are more susceptible to change because they still are growing, orthodontists have found ways to correct overbite misalignments at any age.

How We Correct Overbite

The most common form of correction is done through braces. Braces are stainless steel, ceramic or clear acrylic brackets and wires that are attached to your teeth for a set period of time to help align teeth and jaw structure. These are mostly seen in children and teenagers. Although adults sometimes opt for conventional brackets and arch wires, many often ask me about Invisalign. Invisalign is a system of clear aligners made from medical grade plastic that are barely noticeable when worn. They provide a more professional appearance as they gradually shift your teeth into their proper positions.

Sometimes the overcrowding of teeth within a smaller mouth causes overbite. Tooth extractions may be recommended to correct this, and typically are combined with either braces or a palatal expander afterward to ensure a correct alignment.

A palatal expander is a device placed in the roof of the mouth to widen the palate to create more space for the teeth. Palatal expanders use a center screw that when turned, add more pressure to slowly widen the palate. They’re only suitable for children who are still growing because the palate still can be manipulated. Once the palate has fused together this technique is unable to be used.

Another technique to treat overbite is the use of headgear. Headgear is a metal bracket over your teeth that gently pulls at them to bring the overbite jawbone backward. Often, headgear is used in conjunction with braces and elastics. Elastics are tiny rubber bands that are hooked to certain teeth over special brackets. These elastics can do a number of things, but for overbite, they help to align the teeth properly.

Twin block appliance is a removable appliance that helps the lower jaw grow to reach the upper jaw. This appliance has two plates – an upper and a lower – and has a screw that is turned weekly to gradually position the jaw correctly.

One of the most powerful tools in fighting overbite is the Herbst Appliance. This device steadily moves the lower jaw forward and the upper molars backward. Similar to the palatal expander, this appliance is best suited for younger children who are still growing.

In severe cases surgery may be needed to correct an overbite when the issues arise from a skeletal misalignment of the jaw. During surgery the jawbone will be repositioned, often both top and bottom being done simultaneously.

The above are just a glimpse of the treatment options available to correct overbite. A more detailed article about overbite correction methods can be viewed here.

Do you or your child have overbite? If you’re curious to learn what treatment option would best correct it, I invite you to call us and schedule an appointment for a consultation. We will conduct a thorough evaluation, which includes a complete set of photographs and digital X-rays to help us develop a treatment plan best designed to meet your individual needs.

Unique Utensils in 2018 and Beyond

As we continue to expand our horizons we will likely eat different types of cuisines. As most know, different cuisines often encourage different eating utensils. You may not realize it but Ethiopian restaurants actually encourage diners to eat with their hands and with no utensils at all. Anyone that has eaten at an Asian or Sushi restaurant is well aware of the challenges of eating with chop sticks.

With more Indian, Vietnamese and Asian restaurants popping up all over Miami, it should come as no surprise that restaurant goers will be eating with different types of utensils. If you are concerned about overbite or any type of issues related to your teeth or gums do not hesitate to give us a call today.