Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of misalignments in both the teeth and jaw. Through the use of a variety of appliances such as braces and aligners, dentists and specialist orthodontists seek to ensure the teeth and jaw are in a healthy, natural position to facilitate eating, speaking, and even proper breathing.
Benefits of Orthodontics
Orthodontics provide far-reaching benefits to both your oral and overall health.
- Appearance: Orthodontics will drastically improve the smile of anybody who needs them. Even something as simple as closing a gap or rotating a few front teeth into a more natural position will provide noticeable results.
- Oral hygiene: Crowded teeth are difficult to clean, and susceptible to infection and disease. By spacing the teeth out properly, oral hygiene becomes significantly easier to manage.
- Chewing and bite: The ultimate goal of orthodontics is to ensure proper “occlusion”, which describes how the teeth sit together at rest. When teeth are maloccluded it can be difficult to chew properly, which can result in teeth wearing down much faster than normal.
- Speech: Poor occlusion will also affect a person’s ability to speak. Insufficient space for the tongue to grow and move can make talking difficult, or at least create problems pronouncing certain letters or sounds.
When to Have an Assessment
Orthodontic treatments typically require the adult teeth to be present to function, so the first proper orthodontic assessment should take place around 7-8 years of age.
Prior to a full assessment, the growth and development of the teeth and jaw should be examined and monitored while the child is still young. It can sometimes be apparent from a young age that there will be complications with the development of the teeth and jaw later, and steps can be taken to minimise, if not completely avoid, these complications.
Full orthodontic treatment is generally best carried out when the last milk tooth has fallen out, around 12 years of age. Full orthodontic treatment lasts around two years, but can be more or less depending on the severity of the case and the amount of realignment necessary to achieve proper occlusion.
Adults are also able to get orthodontic treatment. Our teeth and mouths continue to shift and change as we age and grow, so the process of aligning teeth through gentle pressure is effective whether you’re twelve or forty. Many adults are reluctant to get orthodontics, typically due to aesthetics, but today discrete systems such as Invisalign are convincing more and more adults to get treatment.
There are a wide range of orthodontic appliances available. Each has their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and not every type of appliance is always appropriate for every situation.
Braces are perhaps the best-known orthodontic appliance on the market. These are made out of a system of wires and brackets; the brackets are bonded to the teeth, and the wires apply pressure, gently moving the teeth into position.
Traditionally the wires and brackets are metal and very noticeable. Ceramic alternatives are available that function identically, but are made of tooth-coloured materials that are much more discrete.
Lingual braces are are fixed to the tongue (or “lingual”) side of the teeth. Again, they function almost the same as traditional braces, but as they’re behind the teeth they’re completely unnoticeable when talking to people.
Aligners are a more recent addition to the orthodontic appliance range. The most well-known system is Invisalign, which replaces wires and brackets with sets of clear plastic aligners. These aligners are custom-made for your mouth and apply gentle pressure to your teeth. Every two or so weeks you swap out for a new set of aligners to continue moving your teeth to the desired position.
These are designed to work much quicker than traditional braces; however, they generally only treat the front teeth. Instead of treatment times ranging from 6-24 months, fast braces are designed to work within 6 months to straighten the front teeth for a more cosmetic result.
Once the teeth have been moved into their correct position, they need to be held in place. As stated earlier, teeth and jaws continue to move and change over the course of our lives. If care isn’t taken teeth will move back out of alignment.
There are two types of retainers; fixed and removable.
Fixed retainers are wires that are bonded to the back of the aligned teeth. This metal wire prevents the teeth from shifting out of position. Fixed retainers are ideal for teenagers or people who don’t trust themselves to use their removable retainer properly.
Removable retainers are specially moulded plates that fit over your teeth to be worn at night when you sleep. This saves patients the discomfort of adjusting to a metal wire in their mouth, but if the aligner isn’t worn as prescribed it will not work.