Orthodontic appliances – often thought of as braces – are used to straighten your teeth, so that they look and function better. These appliances apply gentle pressure to improperly aligned teeth to guide them, over a period of months or years, into a more proper position.
Braces are often thought of as something that only young people wear, and one of the reasons for this is that the optimum time for orthodontic treatment is between the ages of 10 and 14, before the structure of the teeth and gums have become fixed. However, people of any age can benefit from orthodontic treatment, and not for purely cosmetic reasons.
Other than improving the appearance of your smile, what do braces do?
Braces can be used to correct a number of dental problems, such as crooked, crowded, or protruding teeth, underbite, overbite (when the upper teeth are longer than usual), or overjet (when there is more space than usual between the front upper and lower teeth, also known as buck teeth) conditions, too much space (or gaps) between your teeth, and misalignments due to extra or missing teeth. Yes, these conditions can make you unhappy with your smile and your appearance, but all of these conditions – if left uncorrected – can become the source of much more serious dental problems. Teeth that are misaligned and that do not fit together properly can cause an improper bite, which makes it impossible to chew your food properly, and can cause wear on the misaligned teeth.
This wear can then become the cause of cracks in the teeth that escalate into cavities. If your teeth are overly crowded or crooked, that can also render them more difficult to keep clean with brushing and flossing, which again can lead to cavities. So orthodontic corrections are not merely cosmetic; they have a very real preventative value in maintaining proper dental health.
What types of orthodontic treatments are available?
Adults may tend to remember “braces” as those ugly metal things that we had to wear for a year or so back in Junior High School, and that made us miserable. But dental technology has progressed since then, and now there are many options available, such as:
• Traditional braces – Also referred to as “fixed braces,” these appliances consist of stainless steel or titanium brackets or bands that are attached to the individual teeth. The bands are inter-connected using wires or elastic bands that can be tightened over time to progressively move the misaligned teeth into a better position.
• Lingual braces – These types of braces (such as SureSmile QT or Incognito Braces) attach to the back of the teeth, and thus are not easily visible when you talk or smile.
• “Clear” braces – Many modern braces (such as Invisalign and ClearConnect) work the same way as traditional metal braces, but are made from a transparent plastic or ceramic material that makes them less visible and allows them to blend in with the natural color of your teeth. Some may be removable, so that you can wear them at home and at night, but remove them at other times.
• Customized treatment systems – Systems such as SureSmile use computers, 3D imaging, and even robotic devices to devise a custom treatment regimen for each patient.
Dental technology is constantly advancing, so new types of orthodontic treatment are being invented every day.
Which of these treatments is “best”
All have their advantages, and their disadvantages. Orthodontic treatment takes time; it can take months or years to correct misaligned teeth. One factor to consider is, of course, your child’s appearance (or your own appearance) during the time that you wear the appliances. If you feel that traditional metal braces are acceptable and don’t cause you to become self-conscious when you smile, they are often the least expensive option. Some of the other options, such as the clear braces or the lingual braces, don’t have the disadvantage of being visible every time you open your mouth, but can take longer to work. Cost is also an important factor to weigh. Some orthodontic treatments are quite reasonable, and covered (especially for young people) by dental insurance, while others can be quite expensive.
Orthodontic treatment takes time, and you should take your time considering which option is best for your child, or for you. Visit a number of dental offices or read their websites to become aware of all of the options, their advantages and disadvantages, and their costs. Above all, you should be comfortable with the dentists or orthodontists and trust them; correcting improperly aligned teeth takes time, and during this period you will be visiting their offices every four to eight weeks so that the braces or other appliances can be adjusted.