Orthodontic treatment can correct jaw alignment, maintain healthy teeth and gums, and improve facial balance and profile. Without orthodontic treatment, many problems can arise. Crooked and crowded teeth are difficult to clean and maintain. This can result in tooth decay, worsen gum disease and lead to tooth loss. Other orthodontic problems can contribute to abnormal wear of tooth surfaces, inefficient chewing function, excessive stress on gum or bone tissue and misalignment of the jaw joints. These problems can lead to chronic headaches and face or neck pain. Treatment by an orthodontist can be less costly than the additional dental care required to fix poorly positioned teeth. For most people, a beautiful smile and the confidence it brings is the most obvious benefit of orthodontics.
When should I begin treatment?
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children get a check-up with an orthodontist no later than age seven. Although only a few orthodontic problems need to be corrected at that age, an early exam allows the orthodontist to offer advice and guidance as to the best age to start treatment. Let the doctor guide you as to when to start treatment but you should feel free to ask questions about the timing of treatment.
How long will my treatment take?
The length of treatment varies depending on the complexity of the orthodontic problem, the growth and tissue response to treatment and the level of patient cooperation during their treatment. Orthodontic care requires a team approach in which the family dentist, the orthodontist and the patient play key roles that can impact the length of treatment and the quality of the end result. Generally, the length of comprehensive orthodontic treatment can range from approximately 18 months to 30 months, depending on selected treatment options and individual characteristics.
What are the stages of treatment?
Generally, there are two or three stages of orthodontic treatment. Most patients will benefit from an active corrective stage followed by a retention stage. Some patients will benefit from two active treatment stages often referred to as two-phase treatment. The goal of each stage should be discussed with the orthodontist so that patients (or their parents) have realistic expectations.
How are teeth moved?
Teeth respond to the gentle forces that are applied to them. Braces are a combination of brackets and wires. Brackets are the part of the braces that attach to the teeth. Brackets are the handles that help control movement of the teeth. Braces require a wire (called an archwire) that connects the brackets and provides the forces to steer the teeth in the proper direction. It’s actually the wires that move teeth. The interaction of brackets and wires enables the orthodontist to have three-dimensional control over the movement of the teeth. In many cases, additional forces are needed to help balance the underlying jaw structure and to help the upper and lower teeth fit properly together to make the bite right. Examples of these extra forces include: elastics (rubber bands) attached to brackets (see photo below left); functional appliances; and palatal expanders (see photo below right).