How does orthodontic treatment work?

Orthodontics is a dental specialty that focuses on ensuring the proper alignment and positioning of the teeth and jaw. The goal of orthodontics is not purely cosmetic, but also to help address dental issues that may be a risk to oral health. Crooked and crowded teeth are harder to keep clean and therefore are at risk of tooth decay and gum disease. An irregular bite or misaligned jaw can cause headaches and chronic pain. If you have recently been told by your dentist that you may need to visit an orthodontist, you are probably wondering why exactly an orthodontist is needed and how the specialty treatment works. Here is a bit more information on how orthodontic treatments work to help you feel informed.

How do you know if you need to see an orthodontist?

While you may think you have an issue that needs an orthodontics treatment, dentists and orthodontists are trained to help determine what dental treatment you may need. An orthodontist is a dentist with additional training and certification in orthodontics. Orthodontists complete two or more years of additional education beyond their four years in dental school to receive their certification in orthodontics. After performing a full dental health exam and collecting special X-rays and photographs, a dentist can decide whether orthodontics are necessary for you. Once you are referred to an orthodontist, the specialist can help to officially diagnose your issues and develop a treatment plan that's right for you. The following are all dental issues that may require orthodontic treatment:

  • Overbite is where the upper front teeth lie too far forward in front of the lower teeth. This is a misalignment issue that will require orthodontic treatment to correct.
  • Underbite is where the lower teeth are too far forward or the upper teeth too far back. Again, this is an alignment issue that will need correction.
  • Bit issuesare when the upper teeth do not come down slightly in front of the lower teeth when biting together normally. Bite issues can impact speech, wear and tear on the teeth, or cause pain if left untreated.
  • Spacing or gaps between the teeth as a result of missing or small teeth that can be treated with braces or other orthodontic treatments.
  • Crowding is when there are too many teeth in an area of the mouth. Overcrowding can result in teeth that are difficult to keep clean.

How Does Orthodontic Treatment Work?

Once it is determined that a dental issue should be fixed with orthodontic treatment, there are many different devices that can be used, including both fixed and removable, to help move teeth and retrain muscles. These treatments work by applying gentle pressure on the teeth and jaws over a period of time.

Fixed devices include:

  • Braces are the most common fixed appliance used. Braces consist of bands, wires, or brackets. The bands are fixed around the teeth to anchor the appliance, while the brackets are attached to the front of the teeth. Wires connect the brackets to the bands. Braces place tension on the teeth, gradually moving their position. Braces are usually adjusted monthly to slowly reposition teeth.
  • Fixed spacers are used to keep the space open if a baby tooth is lost or extracted prematurely until the permanent tooth erupts. A spacer is created using a band attached to the tooth next to the empty space, and a wire attached to the tooth on the other side of the space.

Removable appliances include:

  • Aligners are an alternative to traditional braces. These are usually worn by adults in order to move teeth while avoiding the appearance of braces. Aligners are popular because they are invisible and can be removed for eating, brushing and flossing.
  • Palatal expanderis a device used to expand the arch of the upper jaw. An expander is a plate that fits over the roof of the mouth.
  • Removable retainer is a device that is worn on the roof of the mouth to prevent shifting of the teeth back to their previous position.
  • Headgearis a device that uses a strap that is placed around the back of the head and attached to a metal wire in front. Headgear works by slowing the growth of the upper jaw and holding the teeth in place.

There are many benefits that must be considered when you are considering the possible pros and cons of orthodontic treatment. After the treatment has been completed you can expect a healthier mouth, an esthetically improved smile, and teeth that are more likely to last.

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