Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that corrects teeth and jaws that are positioned improperly. Crooked teeth and teeth that do not fit together correctly are harder to keep clean, are at risk of being lost early due to tooth decay and periodontal disease, and cause extra stress on the chewing muscles that can lead to headaches, TMJ syndrome and neck, shoulder and back pain. Teeth that are crooked or not in the right place can also detract from one’s appearance.
The benefits of orthodontic treatment include a healthier mouth, a more pleasing appearance, and teeth that are more likely to last a lifetime.
Many different types of appliances, both fixed and removable, are used to help move teeth, retrain muscles and affect the growth of the jaws. These appliances work by placing gentle pressure on the teeth and jaws. The severity of your problem will determine which orthodontic approach is likely to be the most effective.
Fixed appliances include:
- Braces — the most common fixed appliances, braces consist of bands, wires and/or brackets. Bands are fixed around the teeth or tooth and used as anchors for the appliance, while brackets are most often bonded to the front of the tooth. Arch wires are passed through the brackets and attached to the bands. Tightening the arch wire puts tension on the teeth, gradually moving them to their proper position. Braces are usually adjusted monthly to bring about the desired results, which may be achieved within a few months to a few years. Today’s braces are smaller, lighter and show far less metal than in the past. They come in bright colors for kids as well as clear styles preferred by many adults.
- Special fixed appliances — used to control thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, these appliances are attached to the teeth by bands. Because they are very uncomfortable during meals, they should be used only as a last resort.
- Fixed space maintainers — if a baby tooth is lost prematurely, a space maintainer is used to keep the space open until the permanent tooth erupts. A band is attached to the tooth next to the empty space, and a wire is extended to the tooth on the other side of the space.
1. Metal Braces
The most inexpensive type of braces for adults are the traditional, stainless steel versions. Obviously, the drawback to wearing these is how visible they are. Metal braces hold a thin wire in place with rubber bands to put pressure on the teeth and move them to the desired place.
Metal braces can irritate gums and cheeks at first. Once you have them on, you have to watch what you eat, avoiding things that can stick to the braces, such as caramel or gum. You also have to avoid eating hard foods, which can move or dislodge the braces.
2. Ceramic Braces
Ceramic braces cost more than stainless steel versions, but they’re made to blend in with the teeth so they aren’t as visible. You can choose between clear elastic ties or white metal ties to hold the braces in place.
Though the braces themselves won’t stain, the ties can easily discolor, especially if you consume foods or drinks that typically stain teeth, such as coffee. Your orthodontist will replace the ties every time he or she adjusts the braces, which is usually every month.
Ceramic braces are more sensitive and can easily break or chip. They require more maintenance and more time to install than metal braces, which increases overall treatment time and cost.
3. Lingual Braces
Lingual braces are customized to bond and hide behind the teeth to remain out of sight. They cost more than metal or ceramic braces because the process is more complicated. They require a skillful orthodontist to install them, and not every orthodontist knows how to do it.
Lingual braces don’t work well on small teeth and get in the way of the tongue, potentially causing speech problems and injuries, so you have to learn and practice speaking with them on.
4. Invisible Braces
Invisible braces, such as Invisalign, cost more than any other type of braces because they are practically invisible.
These braces work best for people who don’t have significant teeth problems. The advantages: they’re less noticeable than traditional braces and often require less frequent visits to the dentist.