Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry which specialises
in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of problems in the alignment
of teeth and jaws. The technical term for these problems is malocclusion,
which literally means bad bite. An orthodontist is a dentist who has
undergone extensive post-graduate training in the diagnosis and treatment
of tooth and jaw malalignment.
Malaligned teeth can lead to problems such as increased risk of tooth
decay and gum disease, as well as excessive wear and tear on poorly
positioned teeth. They can also affect your self-confidence; a mouthful
of crowded, overlapping teeth does not make for an attractive smile!
Orthodontists use corrective devices such as braces and plates to
gently and gradually bring the teeth and jaws into proper alignment.
Treatment may involve some periods of soreness and discomfort —
this is settled with painkilling medication.
Orthodontic problems are usually identified by the age of 12-14 years
when most of the adult teeth have erupted. Adults as well as young
people can be treated but, with adults, there is a greater limitation
on treatment as the facial bones are no longer growing and bone modification
is not possible.
Consequently, for many adults, there may be a need for a combination
of orthodontic treatment with braces together with facial surgery.
Assessment may include:
- Plaster models of the teeth constructed from impressions
- Photographs of face and teeth
- X-rays of jaws and teeth
Following those procedures, your orthodontist is in a position to
- Treatment options
- When treatment should begin
- How long it will last
- What it will cost
Before work begins, extractions may be necessary to create room in
a crowded jaw for other teeth. There may be a need for fillings, and
hardened plaque or tartar may have to be professionally removed.
Braces are considered to be the best way of re-aligning teeth. Braces
are usually made of stainless steel, although clear brackets are available,
usually at extra cost. Once the braces are fitted, the patient returns
to the clinic every one to two months for inspection and possible
adjustment and wire changes. It may be necessary for some patients
to also wear rubber bands and headgear to create additional pressure
in the re-alignment process.
Orthodontic treatment with braces usually takes 18-24 months, but
may be more or less. You can ensure the most efficient treatment and
minimise the time by maintaining oral hygiene, including cleaning
your braces, following your orthodontist's instructions and keeping
all appointments. Keep on seeing your dentist for regular check-ups.
Other orthodontic appliances
Some of these appliances can be used before, with or as an alternative
- Arch expansion devices to correct a cross bite
- Functional appliances to assist in correcting protruding teeth
- Removable plates to correct simple misalignment
- Headgear, or night braces, to correct some types of jaw malalignment
When your treatment is complete, the braces will be removed and "retainers"
will be fitted to maintain teeth in their new position. These are
removable plates or wires fitted behind the teeth. They must be worn
according to the orthodontist's directions to make sure the teeth
at this early stage of correction do not move out of alignment. Your
orthodontist or dentist will want to inspect your re-aligned teeth
regularly for the next few years.