Orthodontic FAQs

What is orthodontics?
Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that specializes in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. The practice of orthodontics requires professional skill in the design, application and control of corrective appliances (braces) to bring teeth, lips and jaws into proper alignment and to achieve facial balance.


Why do dental and facial problems occur?
Most malocclusions (dental/facial irregularities) are inherited, but some are acquired. Inherited problems include crowding of teeth, too much space between teeth, extra or missing teeth, cleft palate and a wide variety of other irregularities of the jaws and face. Acquired malocclusions can be caused by thumb or finger sucking, tongue thrusting, the airway being restricted by tonsils and adenoids, dental disease, or premature loss of primary or permanent teeth. Whether inherited or acquired, many of these problems affect not only alignment of the teeth but alsofacial appearances.


Why is orthodontic treatment important?
Everyone wants a beautiful smile and everyone should have a healthy one. The orthodontist’s goal is to achieve both for the patient. Crooked and crowded teeth are hard to clean and maintain. This may contribute to conditions that cause not only tooth decay but eventual gum disease and tooth loss. Other orthodontic problems can cause abnormal wear of tooth surfaces, excess stress on supporting bone and gum tissue, or misalignment of the jaw joints with resultant chronic headaches or pain in the face or neck. When left untreated, many orthodontic problems become worse. Treatment by a specialist to correct the original problem is often less costly than the additional dental care required to treat the more serious problems that can develop in later years. The importance of an attractive smile should not be underestimated. A pleasing appearance is a vital asset to one’s self-confidence. A person’s self-esteem often improves as treatment brings teeth, lips and face into harmony. In this way, orthodontic treatment can benefit social and career success as well as improve one’s general attitude towards life.


Why should you choose a specialist?
Teeth and sometimes faces are permanently changed by orthodontic treatment; therefore, it is very important that the treatment be done properly. Orthodontic specialists limit their practice to orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics unless they also have qualified in another American Dental Association (ADA) recognized specialty. By completing an advanced education program following dental school, they have learned the special skills required to manage tooth movement and guide facial development. Specialists use advanced techniques along with extensive training and knowledge to select cost-effective methods and materials for correcting individual problems.


When should treatment begin?
There is no one answer to this question because each orthodontic problem determines its own best starting time. For this reason, the American Association of Orthodontics recommends that every child first visit an orthodontist by age 7 — or earlier if an orthodontic problem is detected by parents, the family dentist or the child’s physician. This may surprise you because orthodontic treatment is usually associated with adolescence. An early examination, however, allows the orthodontic specialist to determine when a child’s particular problem should be treated for maximum improvement with the least time and expense. In many patients, early treatment achieves results that are unattainable once the face and jaws have finished growing.


What about adult care?
Orthodontic treatment can be successful at any age. In fact, about 25 percent of orthodontic patients today are adults. The biological process involved in the tooth movement is the same in adults and children. The health of an individual’s teeth, gums and supporting bone is what is most important in determining the prospects for improving an adult’s smile and dental health. Because an adult’s facial bones are no longer growing, certain corrections cannot be accomplished with braces alone. However, very dramatic facial changes are now being achieved with a combined approach of surgery and orthodontics for individuals who elect to receive this type of treatment.


How is treatment accomplished?
Custom-made appliances, or braces, are prescribed and designed according to the problem being treated. They may be removeable or fixed (cemented and/or bonded). They may be made of metal, ceramic or plastic. All corrective appliances have one aim —- to use gentle pressure to move teeth into their proper positions. Because of this pressure, the body builds new tissue to support the improved position of the teeth. Certain treats such as peanut brittle, caramels and bubble gum are not allowed; and the teeth may be a little tender after major adjustments. The good news is that the new techniques and the materials used today have not only greatly decreased the discomfort of wearing braces but decrease the frequency of office visits and overall treatment time.


How long does treatment take?
In general, active treatment time with orthodontic appliances ranges from one to three years. The actual time depends on the growth of the patient’s mouth and face, the cooperation of the patient, and the severity of the problem. Mild problems may require less time, and some individuals respond faster to treatment than others. After the braces are removed, a patient may have to wear a retainer for some time to keep the teeth in their new positions. The need for a retainer and the length of time it will be worn is determined by the orthodontist. Most patients remain under the supervision of the orthodontist following active treatment to ensure that the teeth remain aligned.


Successful orthodontic treatment requires a cooperative effort between the orthodontist and patient (and the parent when the patient is a child or adolescent). The patient must follow the doctor’s instructions carefully so that the teeth move in the appropriate manner according to the prescribed schedule. Patients who brush thoroughly; avoid hard, sticky foods; wear their rubber bands and/or headgear as instructed; and keep appointments usually finish treatment on time with good results.