Teeth play an important part in one’s health and appearance. Whether we are talking about a perfect smile or a fully functional dentition, it is essential than the teeth are perfectly aligned and in good condition. Unfortunately, not all of us are lucky enough to have healthy and well positioned teeth. Here is where the specialized orthodontic treatment comes to help. But before settling down for such a treatment, it is necessary to have all the necessary information about the procedures, appliances used, age limitations and other orthodontic-related aspects. Below we will try to answer the title question “What is orthodontics?” and give you enough details to make the right decision regarding your teeth’s condition.
Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry which specializes in diagnosing and treating improper teeth alignment using specific appliances and personalized treatment. The procedures are done by a trained professional called an “orthodontist” which has graduated a dental school and a post-graduate specialization in orthodontics. The orthodontist may work by himself or in collaboration with other dental specialists, such as dentists or doctors with X-ray competences in order to offer complete teeth treatment. In some cases the dentists also have a specialization in orthodontics, which makes them qualified for offering such treatment.
Common orthodontic appliances
In orthodontics, the different appliances are part of the daily treatment. Whether we talk about the fixed appliances or, the more modern, removable ones, these dental devices make the difference between badly aligned teeth and perfect smile. Here is a list of the most popular devices:
Fix dental appliances
The majority of orthodontic appliances used to treat alignment problems are fixed. This means that they are positioned, adjusted and removed only in the dental office, after an orthodontic examination. Commonly known as “braces”, these devices can modify teeth position, can stimulate jaw growth or move the lower jaw to meet the upper jaw. Here are the most popular such appliances and their function:
• Bionator – used to encourage lower jaw growth, this appliance is made in acrylic and is positioned on both upper and lower teeth.
• Bite plate – it is used in the treatment of deep bite and can be either fixed or removable.
• Bonded RPE – positioned on the back teeth, this appliance is made on metal framework and features plastic coverage over the biting surface.
Its main use is that of expanding the palate and at the same time minimizing the bite opening.
• Braces – wired accessories used to strengthen up teeth. They can be placed on upper and lower teeth, depending on patient’s needs.
• Haas Expander – used for palate expansion, the appliance is made on metal framework and contains plastic pieces which come in contact with the palatal tissue.
• Herbst – a metallic device which treats overbite by encouraging the lower jaw growth.
• Lower lingual arch – used for keeping the lower molars from moving forward, the device is made in discreet and comfortable wire and it is barely visible.
• Temporary anchorage device – a small metal screw which is place on the palate or in gum area in order to provide extra support when moving a tooth. The device is removed after the tooth has been brought in the right position.
• Nance – considered a pair for the lower lingual arch, the nance is used to keep the upper molars in place and prevent their forward movement.
• Quad helix – a metallic appliance used to expand the teeth arch. Can be used on top as well as on lower teeth.
• Rapid palatal expander – also known as RPE, the device is made in metal and it is used to expand the palate. It features a screw which is turned by the patient in order to expand the upper jaw.
• Tongue crib – a metallic appliance which prevents the tongue from pushing the lower teeth.
• Thumb appliance – made in metal, the appliance is designed so as to limit patient’s thumb or finger sucking habit. Its design makes this activity impossible, so that the patient will gradually give up trying.
• Tongue spurs – metallic spurs which are positioned on the front teeth in order to prevent tongue thrusting. The spurs can be connected to the teeth or used along with a tongue crib.
• Trans palatal arch – this fixed wired appliance is designed to keep the upper molar in place and prevent their front or downwards movement.
• Spacers – used before the braces, the spacers are positioned in between back teeth to make space so that they can move freely when the braces are fitted.
Removable dental appliances
Removable dental appliances are usually used for short periods of time or for post-treatment period, when they help the patient preserve the results obtained after the treatment. Here are the most common removable dental appliances:
• Headgear – it is used to correct overbite problems and restrict the growth of upper jaw. The appliance is composed of a facebow which is positioned onto the teeth and a strap which goes around the neck or head.
• Invisalign – also known as the invisible braces, Invisalign are clear braces used for teeth straightening. They are custom-made and are replaced periodically to fit the actual teeth form.
• Mouth-guard – a plastic piece which covers the top and lower teeth for protection. Used when playing different sports in order to avoid injuries.
• Nightguard (Splint) – a plastic cover for teeth which minimizes the effects of bruxism. Usually used during sleeping period for maximum comfort and teeth health.
• Positioner – a dental appliance used temporary in order to preserve the effects of an orthodontic treatment.
• Retainers – made in thin metal wire, it is used when the treatment with braces is finished in order to keep the teeth in position. It is advisable to be used daily in order to avoid teeth movement.
Regardless of their type, orthodontic procedures are suitable for children and adults alike. Moreover, the orthodontist will develop a personalized treatment for each patient, taking into consideration factors such as age, teeth problems, gums’ status and jaw resistance. However, there are some recommendations which should be taken into consideration.
The best time to pay a visit to the orthodontist is when the first permanent teeth erupt. This usually happens around the age of 5 or 6. The dental specialist will monitor teeth eruption, will create space for new teeth, will guide the permanent teeth so as to keep the jaw symmetric and will constantly evaluate the way in which the child bites and chews for a proper teeth alignment. At this stage, the treatment is mainly preventive.
Another key moment in teeth development is when all the permanent teeth have made their way out, usually around the age of 12-13. This is the time when the orthodontist can evaluate teeth alignment and recommend a corrective treatment in case of malocclusion (the upper teeth do not perfectly meet the lower teeth). This is also a good moment to start using orthodontic appliances which straighten crooked teeth, if they exist.
Adults can also benefit from the positive effects of the orthodontic treatment. The orthodontist evaluates the condition of each patient and establishes the most effective treatment for the given situation. However, the curing period is longer and the pain is usually stronger for adults. Also, the overall effects may be slightly less dramatic when a treatment is done in adulthood compared to treatments done in teen years.
Orthodontics between cosmetic and functional
There is a common misconception regarding orthodontics’ target. While most of the orthodontic procedures are functional, there is this assumption that going to the orthodontist is justified only when you want a perfect smile. Yet the cosmetic aspect is only a side effect of the treatment. In fact the patient has a varied range of benefits after such a treatment, such as:
• Cleaner teeth – straight teeth are much easier to clean and take care of.
• Healthier teeth and gums – food remains and drink stains gather in between crooked teeth and cause tarter, cavities and gum problems.
• Proper biting and chewing – crooked teeth do not properly perform these functions. When perfectly aligned, teeth bite and chew properly, thus making the digestion process smoother.
There are many answers to the question “what is orthodontics?”, starting with the formal definition and ending with the bold, yet so true statement that it is a life-changing opportunity for people with crooked or badly aligned teeth. Orthodontics offer a second chance for those who were not lucky enough to have a perfect smile and fully functional teeth.