1. At what age can people have orthodontic treatment?
Children and adults can both benefit from orthodontics, because healthy teeth can be moved at almost any age. Because monitoring growth and development is crucial to managing some orthodontic problems well, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children have an orthodontic screening no later than age 7. Some orthodontic problems may be easier to correct if treated early. Waiting until all the permanent teeth have come in or until facial growth is nearly complete may make correction of some problems more difficult.
An orthodontic evaluation at any age is advisable if a parent, family dentist or the patient’s physician has noted a problem.
2. What causes orthodontic problems (malocclusions)?
Most malocclusions are inherited, but some are acquired. Inherited problems include crowding of teeth, too much space between teeth, extra or missing teeth and a wide variety of other irregularities of the jaws, teeth and face.
Acquired malocclusions can be caused by trauma (accidents), thumb, finger or dummy (pacifier) sucking, airway obstruction by tonsils and adenoids, dental disease or premature loss of primary (baby) or permanent teeth. Whether inherited or acquired, many of these problems affect not only alignment of the teeth, but also facial development and appearance as well.
3. Why is orthodontic treatment important?
Crooked and crowded teeth are hard to clean and maintain. This may contribute to conditions that cause not only tooth decay but also eventual gum disease and tooth loss. Other orthodontic problems can contribute to abnormal wear of tooth surfaces, inefficient chewing function, excessive stress on gum tissue and the bone that supports the teeth or misalignment of the jaw joints, which can result in chronic headaches or pain in the face or neck.
When left untreated, many orthodontic problems become worse. Treatment by a specialist to correct the original problem is often less costly than the additional dental care required to treat more serious problems that can develop in later years.
The value of an attractive smile should not be underestimated. A pleasing appearance is a vital asset to one’s self-confidence. A person’s self-esteem often improves as treatment brings teeth, lips and face into proportion. In this way, orthodontic treatment can benefit social and career success, as well as improve one’s general attitude toward life.
4. How long will orthodontic treatment take?
In general, active treatment time with orthodontic appliances (braces) ranges from one to three years. Interceptive, or early treatment procedures, may take only a few months. The actual time depends on the growth of the patient’s mouth and face, the cooperation of the patient and the severity of the problem. Mild problems usually require less time, and some individuals respond faster to treatment than others. Use of rubber bands and/or headgear, if prescribed by the orthodontist, contributes to completing treatment as scheduled.
While orthodontic treatment requires a time commitment, patients are rewarded with healthy teeth, proper jaw alignment and a beautiful smile that lasts a lifetime. Teeth and jaws in proper alignment look better, work better, contribute to general physical health and can improve self-confidence.
5. How is treatment accomplished?
Custom-made appliances, or braces, are prescribed and designed by the orthodontist according to the problem being treated. They may be removable or fixed (cemented and/or bonded to the teeth). They may be made of metal, ceramic or plastic. By placing a constant, gentle force in a carefully controlled direction, braces can slowly move teeth through their supporting bone to a new desirable position.
Orthopedic appliances, such as headgear, bionator, Herbst and maxillary expansion appliances, use carefully directed forces to guide the growth and development of jaws in children and/or teenagers. For example, an upper jaw expansion appliance can dramatically widen a narrow upper jaw in a matter of months. Over the course of orthodontic treatment, a headgear or Herbst appliance can dramatically reduce the protrusion of upper incisor teeth (the top four front teeth) or retrusion of the lower jaw (a lower jaw that is too far behind the upper jaw), while making upper and lower jaw lengths more compatible.
6. Are there less noticeable braces?
Today’s braces are generally less noticeable than those of the past when a metal band with a bracket (the part of the braces that hold the wire) was placed around each tooth. Now the front teeth typically have only the bracket bonded directly to the tooth, minimizing the “tin grin.” Brackets can be metal, clear or colored, depending on the patient’s preference. Modern wires are also less noticeable than earlier ones. Some of today’s wires are made of “space age” materials that exert a steady, gentle pressure on the teeth, so that the tooth-moving process may be faster and more comfortable for patients. A type of clear orthodontic wire is currently in an experimental stage.
7. Do teeth with braces need special care?
Patients with braces must be careful to avoid hard and sticky foods. They must not chew on pens, pencils or fingernails because chewing on hard things can damage the braces. Damaged braces will almost always cause treatment to take longer and will require extra trips to the orthodontist’s office.
Keeping the teeth and braces clean requires more precision and time and must be done every day if the teeth and gums are to be healthy during and after orthodontic treatment. Patients who do not keep their teeth clean may require more frequent visits to the dentist for a professional cleaning.
The orthodontist and staff will teach patients how to best care for their teeth, gums and braces during treatment. The orthodontist will tell patients (and/or their parents) how often to brush, how often to floss, and, if necessary, suggest other cleaning aids that might help the patient maintain good dental health.
8. How important is patient cooperation during orthodontic treatment?
Successful orthodontic treatment is a “two-way street” that requires a consistent, cooperative effort by both the orthodontist and patient. To successfully complete the treatment plan, the patient must carefully clean his or her teeth, wear rubber bands, headgear or other appliances as prescribed by the orthodontist and keep appointments as scheduled. Damaged appliances can lengthen the treatment time and may undesirably affect the outcome of treatment. The teeth and jaws can only move toward their desired positions if the patient consistently wears the forces to the teeth, such as rubber bands, as prescribed. Patients who do their part consistently make themselves look good and their orthodontist look smart.
To keep teeth and gums healthy, regular visits to the family dentist must continue during orthodontic treatment. Adults who have a history of or concerns about periodontal (gum) disease might also see a periodontist (specialist in treating diseases of the gums and bone) on a regular basis throughout orthodontic treatment.
9. What are the most commonly treated orthodontic problems?
- Crowding: Teeth may be aligned poorly because the dental arch is small and/or the teeth are large. The bone and gums over the roots of extremely crowded teeth may become thin and recede as a result of severe crowding. Impacted teeth (teeth that should have come in, but have not), poor biting relationships and undesirable appearance may all result from crowding.
- Overjet or protruding upper teeth: Upper front teeth that protrude beyond normal contact with the lower front teeth are prone to injury, often indicate a poor bite of the back teeth (molars) and may indicate an unevenness in jaw growth. Commonly, protruded upper teeth are associated with a lower jaw that is short in proportion to the upper jaw. Thumb and finger sucking habits can also cause a protrusion of the upper incisor teeth.
- Deep overbite: A deep overbite or deep bite occurs when the lower incisor (front) teeth bite too close or into the gum tissue behind the upper teeth. When the lower front teeth bite into the palate or gum tissue behind the upper front teeth, significant bone damage and discomfort can occur. A deep bite can also contribute to excessive wear of the incisor teeth.
- Open bite: An open bite results when the upper and lower incisor teeth do not touch when biting down. This open space between the upper and lower front teeth causes all the chewing pressure to be placed on the back teeth. This excessive biting pressure and rubbing together of the back teeth makes chewing less efficient and may contribute to significant tooth wear.
- Spacing: If teeth are missing or small or the dental arch is very wide, space between the teeth can occur. The most common complaint from those with excessive space is poor appearance.
- Crossbite: The most common type of a crossbite is when the upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth (toward the tongue). Crossbites of both back teeth and front teeth are commonly corrected early due to biting and chewing difficulties.
- Underbite or lower jaw protrusion: About three to five percent of the population has a lower jaw that is to some degree longer than the upper jaw. This can cause the lower front teeth to protrude ahead of the upper front teeth, creating a crossbite. Careful monitoring of jaw growth and tooth development is indicated for these patients.
10. How do braces feel?
Most people have some discomfort after their braces are first put on or when adjusted during treatment. After the braces are on, teeth may become sore and may be tender to biting pressures for three to five days. Patients can usually manage this discomfort well with whatever pain medication they might commonly take for a headache. The orthodontist will advise patients and/or their parents what, if any, pain relievers to take. The lips, cheeks and tongue may also become irritated for one to two weeks as they toughen and become accustomed to the surface of the braces. Overall, orthodontic discomfort is short-lived and easily managed.
**Information provided by the American Association of Orthodontists.