Orthodontic work may seem like a luxury. But correcting crooked teeth and a bad bite can go a long way toward keeping your teeth healthy, by fixing odd angles and overlaps between teeth where food and plaque can become trapped and minimizing stress on badly aligned teeth that could lead to damage down the line. Here’s an overview of what’s involved in orthodontic work — and how braces may make for a better, healthier mouth.

Who Needs Orthodontic Work

Some people are lucky enough to have straight, nicely aligned teeth, but for many of us, genetics or an overlong attachment to pacifiers may have dealt us a less-than-perfect hand. If you have any of the following problems with your teeth, braces could help you:

Overbite (the top teeth extend too far out over the bottom teeth)

Underbite (your bottom teeth extend over the top teeth)

Crossbite (some of your teeth are out of alignment, and don’t meet up with their “matching” teeth on the other jaw)

Overcrowding (your jaw is too small to accommodate your teeth, leading to overlapping or misaligned teeth)

Gapping (large spaces between teeth)

Crooked teeth (teeth that are turned or twisted away from their ideal placement)

Orthodontic work is typically done during the preteen and teen years, when most permanent teeth are already in place, yet the jaw is still developing. But adults can still benefit from orthodontic work, as long as their teeth are still strong and healthy.

Common Orthodontic Techniques

Orthodontists can utilize a number of tools to achieve a straighter smile for you. The most common are braces, which use a thin wire and a set of brackets — or a clear plastic aligner — and subtle monthly or biweekly adjustments to slowly move the teeth into proper alignment. In conjunction with braces, your orthodontist may use headgear or springs and elastics to emphasize certain adjustments.

For severe cases of overcrowding, some dental surgery may also be required, including jaw surgery or tooth extraction, and you would be referred to a specialist who can manage those types of surgery.

After your orthodontic work is complete, it will take time for your teeth to “settle” into the ideal positioning. During that time, your orthodontist will give you a set of retainers, with a thin metal wire that goes around the front of the teeth and plastic around the backs of the teeth to hold it in place. The retainers hold teeth in their proper alignment, and need to be worn all day and night for the first several months after the removal of braces, and then every night for several years after that.

Brace Types

While in the past, braces were typically metal brackets or bands that held a thin metal wire, today, there are several different types of braces that can be used — many of which can be barely detectable.

Metal braces. This traditional style is the most common type of brace still out there. Metal brackets and bands are cemented onto the front of each tooth, and a thin metal band is held through them. They can be the traditional silver shade, or now in a golden hue.

Ceramic or plastic braces. Ceramic and plastic braces can be made in white or clear shades and can sometimes be paired with a clear plastic wire, making orthodontic work less noticeable.

• Plastic aligners. Invisalign crafted these clear, colorless plastic aligners that fit directly over your teeth, and are replaced on a biweekly schedule to slowly shift your teeth into proper alignment. They are nearly invisible on teeth, making it a popular choice for adults who need orthodontic work.

Cost of Orthodontic Work

There’s a wide range in pricing for orthodontic work — anywhere from $1,800 to $5,500. Factors that can impact the price of your work include:

Severity of your misalignment. If your teeth are very crooked or overcrowded, you may need longer and more involved treatments

Length of treatment. You’ll be making monthly visits to your orthodontist for adjustments to slowly shift your teeth into place. If you’ll be receiving treatment for three years vs. 18 months, that will be a factor in the cost of your treatment.

• Type of braces. Traditional metal braces may cost less than using ceramics or plastic aligners. Discuss your options with your orthodontist.

Dental insurance may cover some or all of the cost of orthodontic work. If your insurance does not, discuss payment options with your orthodontist. Many will work out financing to make the treatment more affordable.