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What Is A Crossbite?

By Michael Howard
Crossbites can affect your smile and your health. Learn more about what causes the condition and how you can address it.

A crossbite is a common dental problem with a number of potential causes. There are also several treatment options. We asked an expert to help explain what a crossbite is, how it can occur, and what you can do to correct it.

What Is a Crossbite?

The American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) describes a crossbite as a form of misalignment that results in the upper teeth being positioned inside of, or behind, the lower teeth. There are two general types of crossbite: anterior and posterior.

“An anterior crossbite is a condition characterized by having the lower front teeth in front of the upper front teeth,” Vick Gupta, DDS, MSD, an orthodontist at Gupta Orthodontics in Plano, Texas, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “This is often referred to as an underbite.”

A posterior crossbite, on the other hand, refers to a misalignment of your back teeth (the premolars and molars). Posterior crossbite is divided into two categories.

“When the upper teeth are behind the lower teeth (meaning they’re closer to the tongue), this is called lingual posterior crossbite,” Gupta explains. “When the upper back teeth are too far in front of the lower teeth (closer to the cheeks), this is called buccal posterior crossbite.”

What Causes a Crossbite?

According to a 2020 article published by StatPearls, possible causes of a crossbite include:

  • Hereditary factors
  • Inadequate dental arch length
  • Losing baby teeth too late
  • Having extra teeth 
  • Habits like thumb sucking
  • Cleft lip and palate

“A crossbite has multiple potential causes that require a thorough exam and x-rays to be properly diagnosed,” Gupta says. He adds that “breathing and sleep issues have also been recently shown to be associated with smaller widths of upper jaws, potentially leading to posterior crossbite.”

Crossbite Treatment Options

Traditional braces or clear aligners—both of which gradually alter the alignment of your teeth by applying continuous pressure—are commonly used to correct a crossbite, according to the AAO. These are sometimes combined with a palatal expander, an appliance that expands the width of the upper jaw.

Other crossbite treatment options, according to Gupta, include:

  • Removing small amounts of enamel from your lower teeth
  • Wearing elastics or rubber bands on your teeth
  • Tooth extraction
  • Reverse-pull headgear or face mask
  • Surgical jaw correction

“Treating a crossbite is entirely dependent on finding the proper diagnosis,” Gupta says. “These options are listed from least to most invasive and are utilized by orthodontists depending on the severity of the diagnosis. These methods are always used in conjunction with braces or clear aligners.”

Surgical procedures to correct a crossbite typically involve lengthening the upper jaw, shortening the lower jaw, or both.

“Due to more profound awareness of the importance of airway and sleep, lengthening the upper jaw, with or without shortening the lower jaw, has become the preferred surgical option for underbites,” Gupta notes.

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