Orthodontics is a specialty discipline of dentistry that focuses on alignment of the teeth and jaws to improve a person’s smile and oral health. Orthodontists will diagnose, treat and prevent irregularities of the teeth with the use of braces, which are fixed dental appliances, and removable dental appliances, when the braces are removed. These devices can be used to straighten teeth, correct an irregular bite, close unsightly gaps and bring teeth and lips into proper alignment. Crooked teeth that do not fit together correctly are harder to keep clean and are at risk of being lost early because of tooth decay or periodontal disease.
The benefits of orthodontics include a healthier mouth, a more pleasing appearance, and teeth that are more likely to last a lifetime.
Good oral hygiene is especially important when you have braces or other orthodontic appliances. Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes, flossing daily, and scheduling ongoing dental visits are all important to help keep the gums and teeth healthy.
Patients with braces should maintain a balanced diet and limit sugary snacks between meals. Your dentist may recommend avoiding certain foods that could interfere with braces or accidentally bend the wires, such as nuts, popcorn, hard candy, ice and sticky foods, such as chewing gum, caramel or other chewy candy.
There are a variety of options, both fixed and removable, which help move teeth, retain muscles and affect the growth of the jaws. They work by placing gentle pressure on the teeth as they move in the jaw bone.
The most common fixed treatment option, braces consist of brackets, elastic bands and an arch wire. Brackets are bonded to the front of the tooth and used as anchors for the braces. Arch wires are placed through the brackets and small elastic bands secure the arch wire in the bracket. Tightening the arch wire puts tension on the teeth, gradually moving them into proper position. Orthodontists adjust braces every 4-6 weeks to bring about the desired results, which may be achieved in one to three years.
Today's braces are smaller, lighter and show far less metal than in the past. They come in bright colors for kids, and clear styles preferred by many adults.
Once braces are removed, a retainer is worn on both the upper and lower jaws (or where the braces were placed originally) for at least one year to hold the teeth into place in their new position.
Although a little discomfort is expected during orthodontic treatment, today's braces are more comfortable than ever before. Newer orthodontic techniques and materials have been developed to move teeth in a shorter period of time.
Here’s an overview of some of the other orthodontic treatment options:
Damon braces are self-ligating appliances, meaning that instead of using elastic bands to attach the arch wire to the bracket, the brackets use a slide mechanism. This eliminates the need for elastic bands, which cause friction and can slow down treatment. With damon braces teeth can move into place more freely so treatment time is decreased. Damon braces are more aesthetically pleasing because the brackets are less noticeable than traditional metal brackets. The downside is that damon braces are usually more expensive than traditional braces. Consult with your orthodontist to find out if damon braces are a good option for you.
Invisalign is a set of custom-made clear plastic aligners, which are designed to shift your teeth into the proper position. About twice a month, the patient switches to a new set of aligner trays, repeating this until their teeth are in the correct position. Invisalign is intended to deliver the same benefits as traditional braces but the aligner trays are less noticeable, offering an aesthetic advantage. The aligners are removed for eating, brushing and flossing, and may not take as long to achieve good results as braces during orthodontic treatment.
Lingual braces, also called invisible braces, are placed on the interior side of the teeth (by the tongue and palate) and are a great option for people concerned about their appearance. Similar to traditional braces, teeth are straightened using continuous gentle pressure to help them slowly shift into the proper position. Lingual braces involve more customization and may be more expensive than traditional braces.
Although treatment plans are customized, most people wear braces from one to three years, depending on their individual needs and the position of their teeth and occlusion.