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Orthodontics 101

Orthodontics is one of many dental specialties.  The word “orthodontics” is derived from the Greek words orthos, meaning proper or straight and odons meaning teeth.  Orthodontics is specifically concerned with diagnosing and treating tooth misalignment and irregularity in the jaw area.  Initially, orthodontic treatments were geared toward the treatment of teens and pre-teens, but these days around 30 percent of orthodontic patients are adults.

There are many advantages to well-aligned teeth, including easier cleaning, better oral hygiene, clearer speech and a more pleasant smile.  Though orthodontic treatment can be effective at any age, the American Dental Association suggests that an orthodontic assessment should be performed around the age of seven.  The earlier orthodontic treatment begins, the more quickly the problem can be successfully resolved.

What problems can be treated with orthodontics?

Orthodontics is a versatile branch of dentistry that can be used alone, or in combination with maxillofacial or cosmetic dentistry.

Here are some of the common conditions treated with orthodontics:

  • Anteroposterior deviations – The discrepancy between a pair of closed jaws is known as an anteroposterior discrepancy or deviation.  An example of such a discrepancy would be an overbite (where the upper teeth are further forward than the lower teeth), or an underbite (where the lower teeth are further forward then the upper teeth).
  • Overcrowding – Overcrowding is a common orthodontic problem.  It occurs when there is an insufficient space for the normal growth and development of adult teeth.
  • Aesthetic problems – A beautiful straight smile may be marred by a single misaligned tooth. This tooth can be realigned with ease and accuracy by the orthodontist.  Alternatively, orthodontists can also work to reshape and restructure the lips, jaw or the face.

Orthodontic Solutions

Orthodontics is a technologically advanced field which offers many sophisticated solutions to malocclusions and other cosmetic problems.  The orthodontist will generally perform a visual examination, panoramic x-rays and study models (bite impressions) in order to assess the exact nature of the discrepancy.

When a diagnosis has been made, there are a variety of orthodontic treatment options available.

Here is an overview of some of the most common treatments:

  • Fixed orthodontic braces – A metal or ceramic dental base is affixed to each tooth, and a dental wire is inserted through each base.  The orthodontist is able to gradually train the teeth into proper alignment by regularly adjusting the wire.  When the desired results are achieved, the fixed dental braces are completely removed.
  • Removable appliances – There are a wide range of removable appliances commonly used in orthodontics, including headgear that correct overbites, Hawley retainers that improve the position of the teeth even as the jawbone reforms, and facemasks which are used to correct an underbite.
  • Invisalign® – This is a newer, removable type of dental aligner that is completely transparent.  Invisalign® does not interfere with eating because of its removable nature, and mechanically works in the same way as the traditional metal dental braces.  Not all patients are candidates for Invisalign®.

What is an Orthodontist?

In much the same way as doctors choose to specialize in areas such as cardiology and neurology, dentists can also choose to specialize.  Orthodontics is a dental specialty which aims to prevent, diagnose and treat facial and dental irregularities, such as malocclusions (bad bites).  Many orthodontic practices are limited to dentofacial orthopedics and general orthodontics but can successfully treat patients of any age.

Orthodontists are fully qualified dentists who embark on a further three years of university-based study and gain extensive clinical experience in an orthodontic residency program.  The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) is the regulating body for this branch of dentistry.  Selecting an orthodontist who is a member of this organization adds the assurance that treatment is being administered by an individual with specialty education in oral biology and biomechanics.  The AAO recommends that children should first be examined by the orthodontist around the age of seven, to ensure that jaw and tooth irregularities are not beginning to form.

What does an orthodontist do?

Orthodontists are experts in correcting misalignments of the teeth and jaw.  There are many debilitating problems associated with misalignment, for example, speech defects, difficulties chewing and difficulty maintaining adequate oral hygiene.

  • How does an orthodontist realign jaws and teeth?

Initially, the orthodontist conducts a thorough examination of the jaw and teeth.  Panoramic x-rays and study models (bite impressions) will be taken prior to the orthodontist making treatment recommendations.  The orthodontist will recommend the best treatment plan for the patient’s particular condition.

Here is a brief overview of some of the treatments orthodontists may use:

  • Dental braces – The combination of brackets (which are affixed to each individual tooth), and an archwire (which connects each bracket) are commonly placed to gently train the teeth into proper alignment.  Dental braces can be made of metal, ceramics or clear (“invisible”) materials.
  • Headgear and facemasks – These devices are generally used to correct a developmental problem, such as an overbite or an underbite.  In addition to the dental braces, the orthodontist will design the headgear and/or facemask which fit around the head and attaches to the braces.  This structure will further encourage the teeth and jawbone into alignment.
  • Retainers – After the orthodontist has realigned the teeth using dental braces, removable devices or a headgear, a retainer may then be provided to ensure that the teeth do not begin to move back toward their original positions.  Retainers are generally worn until the underlying bone has reformed into the correct position.

If you have any questions about orthodontists and the treatments we provide, please contact our office today.