How Orthodontics Makes Your Smile Better

While having a great smile can make you feel good, teeth that are out of alignment can affect the way you feel around others.

Apart from the way you feel, crooked teeth and bite problems can affect your general health as well as your dental health.

Orthodontics is the specialist branch of dentistry that helps deal with bite problems and teeth that are out of alignment.

The best known part of orthodontics is the uses of braces to straighten teeth, sort out spacing issues and resolve other dental problems as well as issues with the jaw and palate.

Dental Braces have three parts – brackets, band and arch wire.

Brackets are attached to each tooth with a band and arch wire runs between the brackets.

This applies pressure over a period of time to straighten teeth which have grown awkwardly.

While the traditional metal braces are still the most common, there is now a wide range of additional options such as ceramic braces, Invisalign braces, self-ligating braces and lingual braces.

Braces can now even be “invisible” for those who are concerned about their appearance.

Treatment with braces can last from six months to several years depending on how old you are and the specifics of the dental problem. Braces have to be adjusted regularly so that they continue working effectively.

While most orthodontic patients are children or teenagers, many adults are now seeing the benefits of orthodontic treatment.

Wearing braces when you are younger is most effective as it can improve the way you look and enhance your health for the rest of your life.

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The Process of Getting Braces

Before you get braces, your dentist or orthodontist will determine if braces are suitable for you and will help solve the problems you face.

First they will conduct a visual inspection of your teeth.

If they determine that you need braces, they will set up what is known as a “records appointment”. At this appointment, X-rays, molds, and impressions are made of your mouth and teeth.

These records will be used to help determine the best action to take.

The full course of treatment may be between six months to two and a half years depending on the issues.

The fist step of fitting the braces is to apply adhesive to help the cement bond to the surface of the tooth.

Normally, the teeth will then be banded and brackets added. Dental cement is used to apply the bracket and light will be used to help this harden quickly. This usually takes a few seconds per tooth.

Spacers may be used to create room for molar bands to be added later to ensure brackets will stick. These can be used when previous dental work such as fillings makes it difficult to secure a bracket to the teeth.

An archwire is then threaded between the brackets and affixed with elastic or metal ligatures. The archwires will need to be adjusted frequently to help achieve the desired outcome.

When the archwire is cold, it is normally flexible so that it can be easily threaded between the brackets. After it heats up to body temperature, the archwire attempts to retain its shape. This is what applies the light force needed to move the teeth.

Often there is a problem because there is not enough space in the mouth for all the teeth to fit properly. If this is the case, then some teeth may be removed. Alternatively, an expander may be used to enlarge the palate or arch.

Braces need to be adjusted every couple of months and this may cause a little discomfort. But most of the time with braces you will forget they are there.

What Happens After You No Longer Need Braces?

When braces have done their job and moved your teeth into the desired position, you will still need to take steps to ensure they don’t move back.

You will normally be given retainers to wear after the braces are no longer needed to ensure the teeth don’t drift to their original position.

The most popular type of retainer uses metal hooks that surround the teeth enclosed by an acrylic plate shaped to fit your palate.

If your teeth are not ready for a retainer, your orthodontist may suggest using a pre-finisher.

This is made of rubber and is similar to a mouth guard. It fixes gaps between the teeth, small spaces between the upper and lower jaw, and other minor problems that braces cannot fix.

A pre-finisher is molded to your teeth with pressure applied. You then be advised to apply pressure to it for a few seconds at a time over a set period until it completes its job.

The retainer and pre-finisher are temporary and can be moved in and out of your mouth.

Braces Are Not Only To Straighten Teeth

While many people think braces are only for straightening teeth, they actually help deal with many other problems.

Crowded Teeth: Sometimes your mouth is not big enough to hold all your teeth in the right place. Crowded teeth may become impacted and affect your bite. Crowding can be corrected by removal of teeth as well as braces.

Overbite: Upper teeth extend too far out over the lower teeth. The gap between the upper and lower teeth may lead you to injure your gums or lips. It can also cause your lips to be pushed forward meaning you are not able to close your lips completely over your teeth.

Underbite: Your lower teeth extend in front of your upper teeth. It is usually caused by having a lower jaw longer than the upper jaw.

Crossbite: Some of your upper teeth bite down inside the lower teeth but others bite down correctly. If you suffer from this, you may have problems chewing.

Open Bite: Your lower and upper incisor teeth do not touch when you bite down. This puts a lot of pressure on the back teeth when chewing and biting. If you suffer from this, you might rub your teeth together without intending to.

Space Problems: If you have teeth that are smaller than normal, or you have lost important teeth, you may have spacing problems. The teeth may spread out and, if the spaces become too large, you might have problems biting and chewing. However, the main issue with space problems is often cosmetic.

The Pros and Cons of Hidden Braces

While regular metal braces with an arch wire and elastics are still the most common, some people opt for a different approach.

One option is lingual or “hidden” braces which are fixed to the inside of the teeth.

They still use brackets and wires, but those brackets and wires cannot generally be seen by others.

Rather than having brackets bonded to the teeth and wires attached with elastic, lingual braces have brackets built for each tooth.

The brackets are fixed to each tooth with cement and then the arch wire is threaded through the brackets.

Pros of Lingual Braces
They look better than regular braces
They work as effectively as regular braces
Food caught in them is not usually visible to others
May be more stable than other options

Cons of Lingual Braces
They can take longer to get used to
The way you talk may be affected, especially at first
Caring for them is more difficult
Cleaning takes longer
They can be more expensive as they have to be custom made and installation is more complex

How Dental Retainers Work with Braces

Dental retainers are devices used to keep teeth in the desired position after braces are removed.

After braces are removed, it still takes some time for teeth to settle into the jawbone and the soft tissue.

Without appropriate action, they might drift back in to the original position.

Retainers can be fixed or removable.

Removable retainers can be taken off to eat or brush your teeth. You wear them all the time for about a year and then wear them only at night for a further period.

Fixed retainers are permanently glued to your teeth and can only be removed by your dentist.

The most common type is Hawley Retainers, which have a plastic base following the shape of your mouth.

This is connected to a wire that wraps around your teeth, keeping them in place.

Essix Retainers are made of clear plastic and some patients prefer them as they cannot be seen but they don’t last as long as Hawley retainers.

As well as keeping your teeth in position after wearing braces, retainers can also be used to correct other minor orthodontic problems that don’t require a full set of dental braces.

For example, they may be used to move just one tooth or correct a slight malocclusion.

Definitions of Orthodontic Terms

Here are definitions of some of the most common orthodontic terms.

Impressions: A mold of your teeth which is used to make a model of them

Panoramic x-ray: An x-ray made by a machine that rotates around your head to give a full picture of your teeth and jaws

Closed bite: Where the upper teeth cover the lower teeth on biting down

Crossbite: Where some upper teeth are inside the lower teeth on biting down

Crowding: Too many teeth in too small a space

Fixed Appliance: Cemented or bonded to the teeth

Lingual Appliances: Fixed to the inside of the teeth

Malocclusion: Poor positioning of your teeth

Class I: Bite is fine as top teeth line up with bottom teeth but teeth are crooked or crowded

Class II: Upper teeth stick out past lower teeth (also called an “overbite”)

Class III: Lower teeth stick out past upper teeth (also called an “underbite”)

Occlusion: The alignment and spacing of upper and lower teeth on biting down

Open Bite: Teeth do not close or come together in the front of your mouth

Proper Occlusion: All teeth are straight and top teeth line up with bottom teeth

Wax Bite: Bitemark left on wax to measure how well teeth are aligned