Approximately 4 million tweens and teens are currently undergoing orthodontic treatment for a poor bite (malocclusion) that can cost their families thousands of dollars in braces or clear aligners. But treatment doesn't always have to follow this track: Found early, many malocclusions can be corrected or minimized before they fully develop.
Known as interceptive orthodontics, this particular approach to bite correction often begins as early as 6-10 years of age. Rather than move existing teeth, interceptive orthodontics focuses instead on redirecting jaw growth and intervening in other situations that can cause malocclusions.
For example, a child's upper jaw may not be growing wide enough to accommodate all incoming permanent teeth, crowding later arrivals out of their proper positions. But taking advantage of a gap during early childhood that runs through the center of the palate (roof of the mouth), orthodontists can increase jaw width with a device called a palatal expander.
The expander fits up against the palate with “legs” that extend and make contact with the inside of the teeth. With gradually applied pressure, the expander widens the central gap and the body naturally fills it with new bone cells. The bone accumulation causes the jaws to widen and create more room for incoming teeth.
Another way a malocclusion can develop involves the primary or “baby” teeth. As one of their purposes, primary teeth serve as placeholders for the future permanent teeth forming in the gums. But if they're lost prematurely, adjacent teeth can drift into the vacant space and crowd out incoming teeth.
Dentists prevent this with a space maintainer, a thin metal loop attached to the adjoining teeth that puts pressure on them to prevent them from entering the space. This spacer is removed when the permanent tooth is ready to erupt.
These and other interceptive methods are often effective in minimizing the formation of malocclusions. But it's often best to use them early: Palatal expansion, for example, is best undertaken before the central gap fuses in early puberty, and space maintainers before the permanent tooth erupts.
That's why we recommend that children undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 to assess their early bite development. If a malocclusion looks likely, early intervention could prevent it and reduce future treatment costs.
If you would like more information on interceptive orthodontics, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Interceptive Orthodontics.”
While retainers are often viewed as a nuisance, they’re crucial to protect the gains made with bite correction. Without them, all of the progress achieved through braces or clear aligners could be lost.
Here’s why: The same elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament that holds teeth in place also allows them to move incrementally in response to changes in the mouth. That’s why we can move teeth with braces or aligners, which put pressure on the teeth toward a desired direction of movement while the periodontal ligament does the rest.
But the mechanics can also work in reverse: With pressure relieved when the braces are removed, the teeth could revert to their original positions through a kind of “muscle memory.” The light pressure provided by a retainer is enough to keep or “retain” teeth in their new positions.
The best known retainer is a removable appliance. Initially, a patient wears it continuously and only takes it out during oral hygiene. Wear duration may later be reduced to night time only and eventually not at all, depending on a patient’s individual needs.
While effective, removable retainers do have some downsides. Like braces, they’re visible to others. And because they’re removable, they’re frequently misplaced or lost, leading to the added expense of a new one.
An alternative is a bonded retainer, a thin piece of wire attached to the back of the newly moved teeth to keep them in place. Because it’s behind the teeth it’s not visible—and there’s no misplacing it because only a dentist can take it out.
A bonded retainer is a good option, especially if a patient is immature and not as diligent about wearing or keeping up with their appliance. But it can make flossing difficult to perform, and if they’re removed or broken prematurely, the teeth could revert to their former positions.
If you decide to go with a bonded retainer, be sure you get some tips from your dental hygienist on how to floss with it. And if you decide later to have it removed early, be sure to replace it with a removable retainer. Either of these two options can help you keep your new and improved smile.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bonded Retainers.”
Miley Cyrus's rise to fame began when she was cast in the Disney series Hannah Montana. She played the title character, Hannah Montana, a famous singing star hiding her true identity, ordinary girl, Miley Stewart. In her real life at the time, Miley Cyrus had her own little secret—she was undergoing orthodontic treatment to straighten her smile.
Like many teenagers (as well as many adults), Cyrus's dental bite wasn't in proper alignment. She could have gone the traditional way by straightening her smile with braces fixed to the front of her teeth. It's an effective treatment, but the metallic hardware can overwhelm a person's appearance.
With her various roles in the public spotlight, Cyrus and her family wanted an effective but out-of-sight method for moving her teeth. They chose a relatively new one called lingual braces. Unlike traditional braces, the hardware for lingual braces is fixed on the back of the teeth (or the tongue side, hence the term “lingual”).
Lingual braces can correct any bite problem labial (“lip”) braces can, just through different mechanics of movement. Its main appeal is that the hardware is hidden behind the teeth, so only you and your orthodontist need know you're wearing braces.
There is also less risk of damage to the mouth or the braces themselves if you're in a sport or profession where you're at high risk for facial blows. And unlike patients with traditional braces, you'll have an unobstructed view of your progress over the course of treatment.
Lingual braces do tend to cost more than traditional braces. Some patients also have difficulty at first with speaking and tongue comfort, though most grow accustomed to the braces within a couple of weeks. Because lingual braces are relatively new, there's been a limited number of orthodontists offering it.
But lingual braces are just one of the ways to straighten teeth. Modern dentistry offers several ways to give you your dream smile. If you have dental problems or would like to improve the look of your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation, and we can discuss your options. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Lingual Braces” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) is a deeply held American trait for building, renovating or repairing things without the services of a professional. The Internet has only made this tradition easier: There are scores of videos showing people how to do things on their own like build a deck, fix a dryer or bake an award-winning soufflé.
But some things are best left to the experts, which if you tried to do using too little knowledge or a lot less training could turn out disastrous. A prime example is becoming your own orthodontist and using dubious home methods to straighten your teeth. If that sounds preposterous, the American Association of Orthodontists recently reported it does happen, with one in ten of their members saying they have treated patients who attempted their own smile-straightening projects.
Often found on social media, these methods usually involve household items like rubber bands or dental floss to straighten teeth. Like other forms of DIY, the object is to save money. In the end, though, these self-orthodontic methods could result in dental damage that could cost much more to repair (if indeed it's repairable) than what might have been spent with professional orthodontics in the first place.
Utilizing extensive training, experience and artistry, orthodontists work with the mouth's natural ability to move teeth in a precise manner for a planned outcome. They carefully consider each individual patient's jaw and facial structures, along with the severity and complexity of their bite problem, as they design and implement a treatment plan involving braces, clear aligners or other orthodontic appliances.
A rigged homemade device to move teeth can't adequately take these factors into account. As a result, you may be risking permanent gum and bone damage—and you may even lose teeth in the process. Even if repairable, such damage could require oral surgery, cosmetic dentistry or more extensive orthodontic procedures.
In the end, you're highly unlikely to be successful at DIY orthodontics—and you won't save any money. A healthy and beautiful smile is well worth the cost of professional, high-quality orthodontics.
It’s something you think about often—especially when you look in a mirror or at a photo of yourself. You wish something could have been done about it a long time ago. But now you think you’re too old to correct your misaligned teeth—your “crooked” smile.
Actually, you can transform your smile through orthodontics, whatever your age. Millions of your peers have done just that—currently, an estimated one in five orthodontic patients is an adult.
If orthodontics isn’t right for you it won’t be because of age, but most likely the condition of your gums and underlying bone or your overall health. That first factor is extremely important: if you’ve lost a significant amount of bone due to periodontal (gum) disease, there may not be enough to support the force of moving the teeth during orthodontics.
Health conditions like severe heart-valve disease, uncontrolled diabetes or drugs to treat arthritis or osteoporosis can also make tooth movement difficult. And, if you have restricted saliva flow (dry mouth), wearing orthodontic devices could be uncomfortable and increase your risk of tooth decay.
If, however, your mouth and body are reasonably healthy (and you don’t have a difficult bite problem to correct), there’s no reason why you can’t undergo orthodontic treatment. The only other thing that might hold you back is concern over your appearance during treatment. Many adults balk at the possible embarrassment of wearing metal braces “at their age.”
If this is a concern, you may have an alternative: clear aligners. These are a series of computer-generated clear plastic trays that conform to the individual contours of your teeth. Each tray is slightly different—you wear one for a short period of time (usually two weeks) before moving on to the next tray to successively and gradually move your teeth. They’re nearly invisible to others and, unlike fixed metal braces, you can take them out for a rare special occasion.
The only way you’ll know whether correcting your misaligned teeth is a viable option is to undergo a full orthodontic evaluation. From there we can help you decide if and how you want to gain a straighter, more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on adult orthodontics, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
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