Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry concerned with correcting abnormalities of the teeth and jaw. Treatment is designed to help patients both cosmetically and functionally. Orthodontics can straighten crooked or protruding teeth, correct spacing and bite problems, and align lips and teeth properly. Braces can assist in correcting all types of misalignments (malocclusions).

Reasons for Orthodontics

While many individuals are drawn to orthodontic treatment for cosmetic reasons, orthodontics is frequently necessary to prevent or correct:

  • Jaw misalignment
  • Speech problems
  • Damage to the inner cheeks and tongue
  • Gum disease
  • Wearing down of tooth enamel

Malocclusions, left untreated, can also result in increased tooth decay, difficulty biting or chewing, or even facial, head or neck pain.

Candidates for Orthodontic Treatment

Most people who need orthodontic care receive it as children, but some adults also get braces. In young children, orthodontic treatment assists in normal jaw growth, helping permanent teeth to come in correctly aligned. Whenever possible, orthodontic abnormalities should be treated while individuals are young. Children should have an orthodontic exam before they are seven years old in order to catch problems early and to ensure optimal treatment results.

Orthodontic Procedures

Orthodontists examine patients to determine whether they require orthodontic treatment. If necessary, such treatment involves the application of wires inserted into brackets, or braces, to move the misplaced teeth gradually into their appropriate positions. Many other appliances, including headgear, plates, retaisners and expansion devices may also be used, depending of the nature of the misalignment. Braces may be made of various materials, such as stainless steel, plastic or ceramic and are sometimes nearly invisible.

While the application of braces is not normally painful and requires no anesthesia, most patients report discomfort in the teeth and gums during the first week or two after being fitted with braces. Over-the-counter painkillers can help relieve this pain, which usually subsides soon.

Many, but by no means all, patients who require orthodontic treatment also require one or more tooth extractions to allow the remaining teeth to be aligned correctly. Once the braces have been worn for the appropriate period of time, there will be no visible gaps between teeth.

The length of time braces must be worn varies depending on the extent of correction required. Generally speaking, patients wear braces for 1 to 2 years.

Adjusting to Dental Braces

It is important that patients wearing braces keep their braces and their teeth clean by thoroughly brushing and flossing with special floss, preferably after every meal. It is necessary for the orthodontist to check the braces regularly, usually every 4 to 6 weeks, to make any necessary adjustments. It is also essential that the patient sees a general dentist for routine check-ups during the period of orthodontic care.

Patients wearing braces can eat almost anything with the exception of sticky foods, like caramel or taffy, and hard foods like nuts or certain candies. Patients with braces should also avoid chewing on ice.

Activities are not limited for people undergoing orthodontic treatment. It is usually necessary, however, for individuals engaged in athletic activities to wear mouth guards to protect both the braces and the teeth themselves.

Benefits of Orthodontic Treatments

Recent advances in orthodontic treatments have made braces more comfortable and more aesthetically pleasing than those used in the past. Many types of braces are not only barely noticeable, but provide the desired results more quickly.

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