Orthodontic treatment is a specialist type of dental treatment that addresses teeth and jaws that are incorrectly positioned. Many people have not been blessed with naturally perfectly aligned teeth and the number of referrals for orthodontic treatment are growing year on year.
You could be forgiven for thinking that correctly positioned teeth were primarily a cosmetic concern. However, crooked teeth and misaligned bites can create a whole variety of health problems including head, shoulder, neck and jaw pain, not to mention a risk of early tooth decay due to them being particularly hard to keep clean. Therefore, orthodontic treatment is an investment in the future of your oral health, giving you a healthier mouth and more confident smile.
Your dentist may recommend you for orthodontic treatment if:
Your teeth do not sufficiently fill your mouth, leaving you with lots of gaps.
You have too many teeth trying to fit onto the dental ridge.
You have an overbite – where the top teeth stick out over the bottom teeth when biting together.
You have an under-bite – where the bottom teeth sit further forward than the top teeth when biting together.
You have an open bite – where there are spaces between the surfaces of your teeth when biting together.
You have a cross-bite – where the upper teeth fail to come down just in front of the lower teeth when biting together.
The center line of your top teeth fails to fall in line with the center of your bottom teeth.
During your initial consultation with your orthodontic specialist you will discuss which type of orthodontic treatment is right for you based on your specific needs. Sometimes more than one type of treatment is needed.
There are two main varieties of appliance that sit inside your mouth and address the issues with your teeth and jaws. They do this by applying firm but gentle pressure in order to retrain them to sit a certain way.
The most common type of fixed orthodontic treatment is braces. Forget the mouths full of metal of the past. Modern braces are lightweight, minimalist and available in a clear style as well as in a range of colors, making them more akin to a fashion accessory than a dental one. Braces are bonded to the teeth, and then able to be adjusted using a series of bands and wires and the frequency with which they are adjusted will vary depending on your needs.
There are also special fixed appliances available to help control thumb sucking and tongue thrusting, as well as fixed space maintainers which are used in paediatric orthodontics to keep a space open and prevent the other teeth from moving while an adult tooth waits to erupt. This is most often used if a child needs to have an infant tooth way before the adult tooth is ready.
There are a much larger range of removable orthodontic appliances available that ever before. Aligners are a great alternative to traditional braces and are virtually invisible. They can be worn all day every day and only need to be removed for eating, brushing and flossing.
Retainers are also a common among orthodontic patients. They are worn on the roof of the mouth and are used to prevent the teeth from moving back into their original position and are often seen as a follow up treatment to braces.
Other types of removable orthodontic appliances include:
Removable space maintainers
Lip and cheek bumpers
Headgear – which slows the growth of the upper jaw and pulls the front teeth back into a more normal position.
As the most common type of orthodontic treatment, many people have a lot of questions when are told that they will need to wear a brace.
The amount of time you will need to wear your brace really depends on how much work your mouth needs in order to correct the problem, and what type of brace you have.
If you have a fixed brace you can expect your treatment to take anything from 12 to 24 months on average, but be prepared to wear them for longer if the problem is severe, and you may be recommended to wear a removable brace or retainer for some time after.
If you have a removable brace then treatment times are typically shorter, as they are recommended for less severe alignment issues.
For the first few days of wearing your brace you may wish to stick to soft foods as your mouth may be a little sore and you will need to get used to the sensation and limitation of a brace.
However, once you start eating ‘normally’ there are still certain foods that you should avoid because they could damage or even break your brace. These include:
Sticky and chewy food which could stick to your brace – and especially chewing gum.
Hard food such as whole apples, uncooked carrots, crusty bread and rolls.
Fizzy drinks – not only are these high in sugar which can lead to decay, but they can also stain your braces.
It is crucial that you take the time to keep your teeth and braces clean, and to brush extra carefully to ensure that you get into all of the gaps around and in between your braces. Failing to do so can result in decay, infection and even decalcification, which is where the calcium gets lost from the surface of the tooth and this will leave you with white spots on your teeth when fixed braces are removed. Your orthodontist may recommend a particular toothbrush to help you take care of your braces.
Yes, it is still important to clean a removable brace as traces of food and bacteria can still get stuck on it and then be transferred back to your mouth. Get a toothbrush that you keep just for cleaning your brace, brush it with toothpaste and then rinse thoroughly with fresh water before returning it to your mouth.