What is Orthodontics?

Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry concerned with repositioning the teeth to straighten them in order to improve appearance and correct the bite. Crooked or crowded teeth are less attractive, less functional, and more difficult to clean than those that have undergone orthodontic treatment. When teeth protrude or turn inward or sideways, they not only look unsightly; they also don’t meet correctly other teeth in order to chew food and may put strain on the muscles of the jaw, resulting in jaw pain or headaches. Orthodontic treatment can not only improve appearance and self-esteem, it can result in much improved dental health. The best age for orthodontic treatment is usually between 8 and 14 years of age, though many people choose to have orthodontia as adults.

What are the different types of orthodontic treatments used?

A variety of orthodontic treatments are made available to correct the positioning of your teeth and jaws including:

  • Braces
  • Retainers
  • Aligners
  • Space maintainers
  • Jaw repositioning appliances
  • Lip and cheek bumpers
  • Palatal expanders
  • Headgear

The type of treatment used will depend on what is needed in each individual case and be determined by an evaluation by the orthodontist.

How will I know if I need orthodontic treatment?

A dentist or orthodontist will determine if you need treatment through use of several methods, including a full dental exam, X-rays and photographs of your teeth, as well as plaster models of your teeth. If you have the following conditions, you may be a candidate for orthodontic treatment:

  • Overbite
  • Underbite
  • Crossbite
  • Openbite
  • Overjet
  • Crowding of teeth
  • Improper spacing of teething

Why choose orthodontics?

Many people choose orthodontic treatments to correct the appearance of their smile. Crooked, crowded teeth and improper bites can cause many to feel uncomfortable, or insecure about the appearance of their smile. The recommended age for orthodontic treatment is between 10-14 years of age when the mouth is still growing and easier to straighten Orthodontic treatments can help to prevent oral issues, such as gum disease, plaque buildup and tooth decay, from occurring. Pursuing orthodontic treatments will not only prevent many of these conditions, but can help boost self-confidence and self esteem.

What does orthodontic treatment involve?

Before any orthodontic treatment is undertaken, the orthodontist does a careful examination, including taking X-rays and making a plaster model of the patient’s mouth. In some cases, the patient’s mouth is too small to accommodate all the teeth, so a few may have to be surgically removed. Once the orthodontist has assessed the situation, he or she will be able to have the appropriate appliances (braces) prepared to help straighten the patient’s teeth. The braces may be made of metal, plastic or ceramic.

Fitted precisely to the contours of the patient’s mouth, the braces may be attached to the teeth to be worn for a designated period of time. They are composed of brackets, bands, and flexible wires and, for all the time they remain in place, help to gently move the teeth to conform to the desired shaping of the bite. Because these braces can’t be removed by the patient, they are referred to as fixed appliances.

In some cases, when the problem is less serious, a removable brace (often referred to as a “bite plate” or “retainer”) may be used. This device can be removed by the patient for cleaning. While it is in the mouth, it provides gentle pressure to move the teeth in the desired direction. Removable braces are often used after fixed braces have been removed to keep the teeth from moving back into their problematic former positions, “retaining” the correction. In some cases, patients may wear the removable braces only during the night.

Specialized Orthodontic Devices

Depending on the needs of the individual patient, more specialized devices may be used in orthodontic treatment. In some cases, headgear may be required to correct the patient’s bite. Usually this headgear will only have to be worn during the night. For some patients, elastic bands will also have to be used as an additional means of pulling the teeth into their correct positions. These bands are put in and removed by the patient according to the orthodontist’s instructions.

“Invisible” Braces

In some cases “invisible” braces may be used to straighten teeth. These aligners are molded out of tough clear plastic and have the advantage of being almost undetectable while being worn. Typically, several sets of aligners are created, with each being worn for about 2 weeks before being replaced by the next one. Although these braces can be removed for eating, drinking, brushing, and cleaning between the teeth, they are normally worn for 22 to 23 hours per day in order to be effective. It should be noted that patients have to have all their adult teeth before they can be fitted for invisible braces.

What is the orthodontic process like for the patient?

Although the specialty of orthodontics has advanced a great deal over the last many decades, becoming much more efficient, there are still variables in how long the patient must wear braces. While some patients are able to complete orthodontic treatment in a few months, others require braces for as long as 2½ years. On average, orthodontic patients undergo treatment for about a year.

Patients may experience some discomfort with orthodontic appliances at the beginning of treatment as their teeth adjust to the pressure involved. Frequently, adjustments have to be made to the devices early on to make the patient more comfortable. Orthodontic braces usually have to be adjusted every 4 to 6 weeks. For the most part, braces become unobtrusive and are well-tolerated. The end results, in terms of appearance and dental health, are well worth the time and monetary investment.