March 1, 2018

Guide to Orthodontics

Orthodontics is the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. The goal of orthodontic treatment is to properly align the teeth, lips, and jaws to create a balanced facial appearance and ensure that the teeth and jaws are functioning normally. A beautiful smile is just one of the benefits of orthodontic treatment; straight teeth function better and are easier to clean.

Why consider orthodontics

When teeth and jaws are not properly aligned (a condition known as a malocclusion), serious dental problems may result. An improper bite can cause issues with the Temporomandibular Joints (TMJ) in your jaw, make chewing and biting difficult, cause abnormal wearing of tooth surfaces, damage supporting bone and gum tissue, or cause improper speech development. Teeth that are not straight are more difficult to clean and more likely to trap food particles, which makes you more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease, and can lead to early loss of teeth or broken teeth.

Of course, in addition to protecting the health of your teeth and jaw, orthodontics can also help you feel more confident. Our smiles impact our relationships and our self-esteem, and feeling good about yours shouldn’t be underestimated. Holding back from smiling because of a lack of confidence can have ripple effects in your personal and professional life, and investing in feeling your best about your smile can impact your mental and emotional health as much as your oral health.

Causes of and types of malocclusion

There’s a good chance that your problem is due to inherited characteristics. For example, you might have your mother’s small jaw and your father’s big teeth, resulting in a space issue.

Skeletal malocclusion, the most common type, is when one jaw has not grown properly to line up with the other jaw. Dental malocclusion describes the condition where individual teeth are crowded, out of alignment, or too spread out. Orthodontics can offer a solution to both of these situations. Our doctors will assess the nature and condition of your misaligned teeth or jaw, and talk to you about what type of orthodontic treatment can work for you.

How orthodontic treatment works

Orthodontics use steady, gentle pressure applied on each tooth to carefully move it to the desired position. During the treatment, adjustments are periodically made to control and maintain the pressure required to continue the movement of the teeth.

No two orthodontic patients require the exact same treatment. Treatment can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years or longer depending on the severity of the problem, the age of the patient, and the amount of movement that is required. The best way to judge potential treatment time is to talk to your dentist.

Types of orthodontic treatment

Braces use metal or clear brackets attached to your teeth and bands, wires, and elastics to place gentle pressure on your teeth, guiding them into their proper position.

Invisalign (invisible braces)
Invisalign is a series of clear trays that apply gentle pressure on your teeth. Each tray in the series is slightly closer to the desired end position of your teeth, so that your teeth gradually move position over time until they are properly aligned. Invisalign is a good option for patients who don’t want to wear traditional braces.

Most orthodontic treatments take between 1 and 3 years, followed by a period of time when you’ll wear a retainer to maintain the new position of your teeth. The final result is properly aligned teeth that work together as they should!

First steps and what to expect when starting orthodontic treatment

In order to determine your specific needs, your doctor will completely evaluate your mouth and gather the relevant information. This will likely include:
impressions of your teeth, from which models are made (these are useful for the orthodontist, and will remind you exactly how your teeth looked before correction)
photographs of your teeth, face, and smile
X-rays of your head and teeth
your medical health history and dental health history

Your doctor will then carefully evaluate your specific needs and provide you with a treatment plan for correction. It’s important to follow the recommended treatment plan carefully in order to achieve the proper intended correction.

Before placement of your braces, your doctor will likely use spacers to create some space between your teeth for attaching the bands of your braces. There are two types of spacers: small springs, or plastic modules. In just a few days, the spacers will gently move the teeth slightly apart where necessary.

Spacers often cause some soreness, but this goes away in a few days. You can try rinsing your mouth with warm salt water to relieve the irritation, and normal chewing also helps.

If a spacer falls out, Call your doctor immediately to arrange for a replacement. That little spacer is making just enough room for a comfortable fit for your braces, and plays an important role.

Foods to avoid while wearing orthodontic braces

You can eat just about anything while wearing braces, but getting used to braces also usually means making a few adjustments to your eating habits. Some food might damage your braces or cause problems for your teeth.

Foods to avoid

  • candy (caramels, taffy, nut brittles, fruit-flavored chewy candies, anything gummi)
  • corn chips/crisp tacos
  • hard foods (may cause braces to bend or break)
  • nuts
  • pizza crust or crusty breads
  • popcorn
  • hard pretzels
  • sticky foods (can bend wires and pull off brackets)
  • sugary foods: avoid these as much as possible; if you do eat them, brush your teeth within minutes or as soon as possible, or at the very least rinse your mouth with water

Foods to enjoy with adjustments

  • apples: Don’t bite into a whole apple – cut it into wedges first.
  • bubble gum: it’s best not to chew gum at all, but if you must, choose a sugarless option
  • corn on the cob: remove the kernels from the cob
  • ice: do not crunch