A general dentist must undergo post-graduate training to become a licensed orthodontist. Patients seeking orthodontic care should choose a dentist with the appropriate training and certification to ensure optimal treatment results.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Treatment?
Patients with crooked or misaligned teeth, crowded teeth, over-bite or under-bite, and widely spaced teeth can benefit from orthodontic appliances. For children and teens, braces help teeth move into the best position as the patient's mouth is still developing. For adults, braces correct problems not addressed during childhood or that developed later in life. An orthodontist will recommend device and treatment plan options based on the age of the patient, the type and degree of problems present, and the patient's ability to follow treatment instructions.
Patients with healthy teeth and gums and excellent overall oral hygiene (including regular prophylactic cleaning at a dentist's office) are the best candidates for orthodontics. Patients with significantly decayed or damaged teeth, dental prosthetics such as bridges, or infected gums may not be appropriate candidate for braces. A patient with underlying conditions such as gingivitis or periodontitis should have these conditions treated prior to teeth straightening with braces.
Benefits of Orthodontics
Patients generally feel embarrassed by the appearance of crooked or overlapping teeth or by a large gap between their teeth. Braces effectively make teeth straighter and more evenly spaced. Unlike a cosmetic solution such as veneers or dental composites which will only alter the apparent shape and positioning of teeth, braces actually correct underlying malocclusion and improve oral function throughout the mouth. Patients who want less noticeable braces may choose ceramic materials or clear plastic trays that blend in with their teeth better than metal braces.
Patients often have a particularly difficult time keeping crowded and poorly spaced teeth clean. This increases the risk of cavities over the long term. Patients with misaligned teeth are more likely to suffer from chronic dental conditions such as gum disease, tooth decay, excessive wear and bone loss in the jaw. Timely orthodontic treatment can help decrease the occurrence of these dental problems and prevent further damage.
Types of Orthodontics
Traditional Braces: These devices consist of a series of brackets and a supporting wire. Typical bracket materials include metals such as stainless steel or gold. A wire connects the brackets to one another. An orthodontist cements a bracket to each treated tooth. Elastic ties hold the wire in place (some recently developed systems do not use ties). The orthodontist adjusts or changes the wires and ties every 4 to 6 weeks to apply the correct amount of pressure to move teeth into the desired position. Some patients require more frequent visits to adjust wires to relieve discomfort.
Treatment may take 1 to 3 years depending on the degree of correction required and the patient's tolerance for wearing braces. The orthodontist will prescribe a retainer after removing the orthodontics. The retainer helps keep the patient's teeth in proper alignment to decrease the need for repeated orthodontic treatment.
"Clear" Ceramic Braces: Ceramic is an alternative to metal for the brackets on traditional braces. Ceramic closely resembles the color of a typical patient's teeth. This makes the braces less noticeable than metal or gold braces. Patients who want to keep their smile looking as natural as possible throughout treatment may prefer ceramic braces.
This material does have some disadvantages compared to metal. It may be more expensive depending on the dentist's pricing schedule for the materials used. Ceramic brackets may also chip or break requiring replacement. They can also cause tooth wear if they come into contact with the surface of an opposing tooth during chewing or biting. Composite resin brackets are an alternative material that also resembles enamel. However, this plastic material will stain over time and tends to wear down.
Invisalign® Braces: These clear plastic trays offer an alternative to standard braces. The patient uses a series of custom fitted trays to gradually move teeth into the desired position. Orthodontists can often use Invisalign® to correct all but the most severe cases of malocclusion. Dentists now treat both adults and teens with these braces. Patients must wear their trays throughout the day and night; but the trays can be removed for eating, sport activities, and brushing and flossing. Patients often select these braces for greater comfort and a more natural appearance during treatment.