Orthodontics is a highly specialized branch of dental medicine that is focused primarily on aligning the teeth and jaws to improve one's smile and oral health. Etymologically, "Ortho" means correct or straight, and "Odont" means tooth.
A dentist usually starts the process by recommending braces to improve the patient's physical "orofacial" appearance. Through orthodontic treatment, problems like crooked or crowded teeth, overbites or underbites, incorrect jaw position and disorders of the jaw joints are corrected.
Patients with orthodontic problems can benefit from treatment at nearly any age. An ideal time for placement of braces is between 10 and 14 years of age, while the head and mouth are still growing and teeth are more accessible to straightening.
Although it corrects a large number of dental problems, braces are not desirable under certain circumstances. Such is the case of pre-adolescent to early adolescent children, one must take into consideration the trauma caused by changes in facial appearance and the social implications of such. Therefore, it is best that parents consult with their children on such matters before applying braces.
And braces aren't just for kids. More and more adults are also wearing braces to correct minor problems and to improve their smiles.
There are several types of braces and ones dentist will know what appliance is best for ones dental problem, but the patient often has a choice. Braces generally come in three varieties: The most popular type are brackets, metal or plastic, that are bonded to teeth and are far less noticeable. The "lingual" types of braces are brackets that attach to the back of teeth, hidden from view. The third type, bands, is the old-fashioned type that covers most of your teeth with metal bands that wrap around the teeth. All use wires to move the teeth to the desired position.
The length of time one spends in braces depends upon the treatment plan. The more complicated your spacing or bite problem is, and the older you are, the longer the period of treatment, usually. Most patients can count on wearing full braces between 18 and 30 months, followed by the wearing of a retainer for at least a few months to set and align tissues surrounding straightened teeth.
The interconnecting wires are tightened at each visit, bearing mild pressure on the brackets or bands to shift teeth or jaws gradually into a desired position. Ones teeth and jaws may feel slightly sore after each visit, but the discomfort is brief. Keep in mind also that some teeth may need to be extracted to make room for teeth being shifted with braces and for proper jaw alignment.
During the time that the braces are in place, cut down on sweets, chips and pop. Sugary and starchy foods generate acids and plaque that can cause tooth decay and promote gum disease.
Cut healthy, hard foods like carrots or apples into smaller pieces. Sticky, chewy sweets like caramel can cause wire damage and loosen brackets. Avoid hard and crunchy snacks that can break braces, including popcorn, nuts and hard candy. Habits to avoid are: ice cube chewing, thumb sucking, excessive mouth breathing, lip biting and pushing your tongue against your teeth.
With braces, oral hygiene is more important than ever. Braces have tiny spaces where food particles and plaque get trapped. Brush carefully after every meal with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly and check your teeth in the mirror to make sure they're clean. Take time to floss between braces and under wires with the help of a floss threader. Have your teeth cleaned every six months to keep your gums and teeth healthy. Insufficient cleaning while wearing braces can cause enamel staining around brackets or bands.
Your family general dentist is responsible for coordinating your dental treatment, and this could encompass any orthodontic treatment plan, including diagnosis, examinations and some orthodontic procedures. Your dentist may, however, refer you to an "orthodontist"-a specialist trained in the development, prevention and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite and jaws and related facial abnormalities.