Orthodontics can produce an amazing smile transformation. With today’s advanced appliances and techniques even the most difficult malocclusions (bad bites) can be overcome. All of this innovation, however, depends on one basic anatomical fact: though firmly set in the mouth, our teeth can still move.
Teeth are actually held in place by the periodontal ligament, a strong, elastic tissue that attaches to them through tiny collagen fibers on one side of the ligament and to the jawbone with similar fibers on the other side. When pressure is placed against a tooth, the bone on the opposite side of the force begins to dissolve (resorb), allowing the tooth to move. As it moves, new bone is built up behind the tooth, to stabilize it. Orthodontists take advantage of this natural mechanism through orthodontic hardware like braces that applies pressure in the desired direction of movement, while the ligament and bone do the rest.
There is, though, a downside to this process. The teeth, bone and gum tissues can contain a kind of “memory” for the former natural position of the teeth. Over time, the lower front teeth tend to take a gradual migratory movement back towards their original position. Also, as we age the lower front teeth may crowd each other as there is a genetic influence for teeth to move to the midline of the face, causing a pressure that allows the skinny lower front teeth to slip behind each other. As a result of both of these tendencies, corrected teeth may retreat from their new positions.
To stop these tendencies, we use an appliance known as a retainer after braces or other hardware is removed. As the name implies, this appliance “retains” the teeth in their new position. For structural “memory,” the retainer will keep the teeth in their new position until the impulse to return to the old one has faded, about eighteen months. Retainers can also slow or stop the natural genetic influence of movement, but it may mean wearing a retainer for an indefinite period, especially individuals who’ve undergone orthodontic treatment later in life.
The length of time you’ll need to wear a retainer after braces — and what type, whether a removable appliance or one permanently attached — will depend on a number of factors including the type of malocclusion, your individual mouth structure and age. We’ll recommend the best option that ensures the best chance of keeping your teeth in their new position.
If you would like more information on retainers after orthodontic treatment, 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 “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
Teeth crowding is a difficult bite problem (malocclusion) that often involves the entire jaw structure to be evaluated. Normally occurring when the jaw doesn’t have adequate space for normal tooth eruption, teeth coming in later put pressure on other teeth, causing them to develop improperly.
Crowding also makes it difficult to realign teeth with braces because there’s simply not enough room for sufficient movement to take place. The solution may then be to consider the removal of some of the teeth to create enough space for orthodontic treatment.
Not just any tooth can be removed, however — we must first conduct a careful analysis to determine which can be removed to facilitate optimum movement of the remaining teeth without disrupting normal mouth function or affecting appearance. The teeth most frequently removed for this purpose are the bicuspids, located between the cuspids or eyeteeth (which are positioned directly under the eyes) and the molars, the largest teeth in the back of the mouth. Sometimes one premolar tooth on each side of the jaw can be removed without sacrificing future form or function.
There are a few important considerations we must keep in mind when extracting teeth for orthodontic reasons; perhaps the most important is preserving bone at the extraction site. Because continuing bone growth depends on the forces generated by teeth when we bite or chew, bone near a missing tooth socket will tend to diminish over time. If there’s insufficient bone during orthodontic treatment, it may result in gum recession and root exposure — not only damaging to the teeth themselves but also to a person’s smile appearance. To avoid this, we sometimes will consider inserting a bone graft, which will stimulate bone growth, into the empty socket immediately after extraction. While this isn’t commonly done, it’s being considered if the patient’s bone is thin and a concern during healing.
We must also consider how to accommodate other, unrelated tooth loss to assure the final result is visually appealing. It may be necessary in these cases to maintain the space at the missing tooth site for a future restoration once the orthodontics is completed. This takes planning as well as the use of restorations like dental implants, bridges or partial dentures.
Regardless of your bite issues, the field of orthodontics has the appliances and techniques to overcome even the most complicated condition. When necessary, using procedures like tooth extraction can help turn an unappealing, dysfunctional bite problem into a beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic teeth extractions, 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 “Tooth Removal for Orthodontic Reasons.”
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
People mainly identify orthodontics with braces. But while they’re a major part of it, braces aren’t the only way this important dental specialty can make a difference in a person’s bite.
For example, orthodontics can help guide the development of a younger patient’s facial structure that could head off future upper teeth misalignment. The area of focus is the upper jaw and palate (the roof of the mouth) that jointly make up a structure called the maxilla. The maxilla is actually formed by two bones fused together in the center of the palate along what is known as the midline suture running from front to back in the mouth.
The two bones remain separated until puberty, which helps accommodate rapid structural growth during childhood. But problems can arise if the upper jaw is too narrow, causing a “cross-bite” where the lower back teeth bite abnormally outside the upper ones. This can crowd upper permanent teeth and cause them to erupt improperly.
Using a technique called palatal expansion we can correct this abnormality if we act before the maxillary bones fuse. The technique employs a custom-made appliance called a palatal expander that attaches to the posterior teeth of the upper arch. Expanders have two halves joined by a small screw device to increase tension against the teeth to widen the jaw. A parent or the patient (if old enough) increases the tension by using a special key to turn the adjustment screw a tiny amount each day. This may cause minor discomfort that normally eases in a few minutes.
The patient wears the device until the jaw expands to the desired width and then allows the bones to stabilize in the new position. This can sometimes create a small gap between the upper front teeth, but it often closes on its own or it may require braces to close it.
While palatal expanders are not for every case, they can help normalize development and improve the bite, and thus preclude more extensive orthodontic treatment later. But time is of the essence: after the maxilla has fused, surgery will be necessary to separate them and widen the palate. It’s important then not to delay if your child could benefit from this effective treatment.
If you would like more information on palatal expanders and other orthodontic treatments, 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 “Palatal Expanders.”
If you or a family member wears braces, you're used to visiting your orthodontist for adjustments and progress monitoring. But it's just as important that you continue regular visits with your family dentist, especially if you begin noticing abnormalities with your teeth and gums.
We need to be on alert for dental health because risks for disease increase during orthodontic treatment. Most oral infections arise from plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. You avoid plaque buildup by brushing and flossing at least once a day and undergoing semi-annual office cleanings for any remaining plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits).
Braces, however, can complicate hygiene. It's harder to get into areas blocked by the brackets and wires with your brush or floss. This can quickly give rise to gingivitis, a form of periodontal (gum) disease characterized by gum swelling. If not treated, gum disease could eventually cause the gums to detach from the teeth and lead to bone and tooth loss.
The brackets and wires can also irritate the gums and cause them to swell or overgrow, a condition called hyperplasia. This further complicates proper hygiene, which then increases the risk for infection even more.
It takes more time and effort to brush and floss effectively while wearing braces. But it's necessary to prevent these problems. Interproximal brushes (which fit in the spaces between teeth) can help, as well as special floss threaders. You might also consider a water flosser, which use a high-pressured water spray to remove plaque between teeth.
And, don't neglect seeing us on a regular basis. If you notice gum swelling, redness or bleeding, contact us as soon as possible.
If the swelling is due to hyperplasia, treatment could wait until after the braces come off, as long as there doesn't appear to be any gum detachment from the teeth. If there is, though, you may need to see a periodontist (a gum specialist) for further evaluation. It may be necessary in advanced cases to remove the braces to treat the underlying gum condition.
It pays to keep a close eye on your teeth and gums while wearing braces. Catching problems before they become too serious will help ensure your new smile is just as healthy as it is attractive.
If you would like more information on dental care while undergoing orthodontic treatment, 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 “Gum Swelling during Orthodontics.”
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