Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that specializes in treating patients with improper positioning of teeth when the mouth is closed (malocclusion), which results in an improper bite. Orthodontics also includes treating and controlling various aspects of facial growth (dentofacial orthopedics) and the shape and development of the jaw. Orthodontics also includes esthetic dentistry; when the patient’s aim is to improve his/her appearance.
An orthodontist uses a range of medical dental devices, including headgears, plates, braces, etc. to help in:
- Closing wide gaps between the teeth
- Making sure the tips of the teeth are aligned
- Straightening crooked teeth
- To improve speech or eating (oral function)
- To improve the long-term health of gums and teeth
- To prevent long-term excessive wear or trauma (of the teeth)
- Treating an improper bite
When can orthodontic treatment start?
Treatment will not usually commence until the child is about 12 or 13 years old; when the adult teeth have come through and developed fully. In some cases treatment may start a couple of years later if teeth problems had not become noticeable beforehand.
Children with a cleft lip and palate may require orthodontic treatment before their adult teeth have developed completely.
There are two types of orthodontic appliances: fixed and removable ones.
Fixed appliances – the most common devices used in orthodontics. They are used when precision is important. Although the patient can eat normally with fixed appliances, some foods and drinks need to be avoided, such as carbonated drinks, hard sweets, or coffee. People who participate in contact sports need to tell their orthodontist, so that special gum shields can be made.
Examples of fixed appliances include:
- Braces – consisting of brackets and/or wires and bands. Bands are fixed firmly around the teeth and serve as anchors for the appliance, while brackets are usually connected to the front of the teeth.
- A patient sees the orthodontist once a month so that the braces can be adjusted. The treatment course may last from several months to a number of years. Children tend to prefer the colored braces, while adults usually go for the clear styles.
- Removable appliances – these are typically used for treating minor problems, such as preventing thumb sucking or correcting slightly crooked teeth. They should only be taken out when cleaning, eating or flossing. Sometimes, the orthodontist may advice the patient to remove them during certain activities, such as playing a wind instrument or cycling.