Many people seek orthodontic treatment to get the beautiful, straight smile they've always wanted, but orthodontics is not just about appearance. Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that deals with the diagnosis, prevention and correction of the position of the teeth and jaws.
Orthodontic treatment may be necessary when teeth are crooked or poorly spaced or do not come together in an ideal position for eating and speaking. When teeth do not fit together properly, certain teeth may experience too much wear, chewing can be difficult, and jaw muscles may be overworked, leading to headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and jaw fatigue. Teeth that are crowded or crooked are harder to keep clean, increasing the risk of dental disease. These issues can be compounded by being self-conscious about your smile.
Orthodontic treatment can effectively treat several common problems, such as the following:
During childhood, orthodontics is generally used to improve the "bite" for better functionality. Some people need orthodontic treatment because of a dental injury or early thumb or finger sucking. Over time, thumb or finger sucking can push the teeth and jaw forward, block the front teeth from erupting fully, or affect jaw growth.
Orthodontic treatments work because teeth are not rigidly fixed in the jaw. Rather, a periodontal ligament attaches the tooth to the bone. Although strong, the ligament allows teeth to move when pressure is exerted by an orthodontic appliance. As a new position is achieved, the bone and soft tissues surrounding the teeth remodel themselves to help maintain the new position.
Braces, the most common orthodontic appliance, are often used around age 12-13. Braces consist of small brackets placed on teeth. Wires pass through the brackets and usually attach to bands that wrap around the back teeth—all these components work together to move teeth.
Teeth may be sore for a few days after braces are adjusted, but over-the-counter pain relievers can help. And orthodontic wax, available at any pharmacy, can protect your cheeks as they get used to the braces and wires.
With braces, good oral hygiene is essential because food particles are more likely to get stuck, increasing the risk of tooth decay. To protect against decay and to keep from dislodging the braces, it is necessary to avoid certain foods, like popcorn, gum, sticky foods and hard candy.
There are other types of orthodontic appliances, including space maintainers, jaw positioning appliances (splints), palatal expanders, retainers and headgear. Like braces, these appliances work by placing gentle, constant pressure on the teeth and jaws. The type and complexity of your orthodontic issue will determine which treatment is recommended.
Orthodontic treatment isn't just for kids. An estimated 1.4 million adults undergo orthodontic treatment in the U.S. each year. Many adults and older teens opt for clear orthodontic aligners, as they are hardly noticeable and can be removed for eating and brushing teeth.
Clear aligners are a series of custom-made clear plastic trays that fit snugly over the top and/or bottom teeth. They exert a gentle force to progressively bring teeth into alignment. Every two weeks you switch to the next tray in the series, which is based on computer-generated movements toward your orthodontic goal. While clear orthodontic aligners are effective in many mild and moderate cases, they are not suitable for complex orthodontic issues.
Orthodontic treatment can result in a healthier mouth and greater self-confidence. Other benefits include improved appearance, speech and chewing function as well as an increased chance of maintaining healthy teeth and gums over the long term.
If you are concerned about the alignment of your teeth or your children's teeth, we can determine if orthodontic treatment would benefit you. And if orthodontic treatment is recommended, we can discuss options and develop a treatment plan that's right for you.