Orthodontics is a dental specialty recognized by the American Dental Academy for restoring function and a pleasing appearance to a patient’s teeth. An orthodontist focuses on correcting the positioning of a patient’s teeth and jaws using a variety of appliances including braces and retainers. These procedures usually take many months or years to complete. Such procedures are usually reserved for patients who are able to commit to long term treatment.
What Problems Can an Orthodontist Fix?
An orthodontist can provide treatments to correct:
- Teeth that are crooked (rotated inward or outward)
- Teeth that are crowded or overlapping
- Small or large gaps between teeth (the may include gaps caused by missing teeth in some cases)
- Midline misalignment (if the line separating your two top incisors doesn’t line up with the line separating your two lower incisors)
- Bite problems such as over bite, under bite, cross bite, or gaps between the chewing surfaces of the molars (open bite)
What Causes Orthodontic Problems?
These malformations may be congenital due to abnormalities that are present at birth and become evident during childhood. Or, in the case of missing teeth, the issue may occur due to poor oral hygiene or accident. In some cases persistent behaviors such as thumb sucking can increase the risk of developing a misalignment during childhood. However, in most cases, these problems are just the luck of the draw. Some people have naturally perfect teeth, but many of us need a little extra help to get everything straightened out!
Why Seek Treatment?
For slightly crooked teeth, minor crowding, or small gaps that are not getting worse over time, orthodontic treatment might be viewed as mainly cosmetic. If it’s not readily visible when you smile or you don’t mind how they look, you could simply leave these teeth as they are. However, you will need to take extra care of your teeth to ensure that they are clean and free of debris. When teeth are not aligned properly, there’s a higher risk of dental decay and gum disease from food scraps and bacteria getting lodged between them. Talk to your dentist about whether your crooked or crowded teeth are putting you at risk for cavities and gingivitis. It’s better to seek preventive orthodontics treatment than to end up losing a tooth.
You should definitely see an orthodontist if your tooth misalignment seems to be getting worse over time. If you are experiencing tooth or jaw pain, headaches, or neck pain during chewing, these are signs that a serious problem may be developing. Misalignment can lead to problems ranging from excessive tooth wear and breakage to TMJ.
Your children should be seeing a family dentist for regular cleanings starting in their toddler years. This dentist can stay on the lookout for any problems that might require the attention of an orthodontist. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that you take your child to an orthodontist by about age seven. At this point, grown up teeth are starting to come in and it’s possible to do an evaluation and check for any problems with normal development. Orthodontic appliances that may be recommended for children or teens include:
- Braces to help teeth grow in straight or to correct crooked teeth (teens may be candidates for Invisalign)
- Space maintainers (to keep a gap open for an adult tooth to grow in)
- A palate expander to widen the arch of the upper jaw and help teeth grow in correct alignment
- A lip bumper to keep lips and teeth from placing undue pressure on the teeth, preventing crowding
- Headgear to correct severe bite problems