Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. The technical term for these problems is “malocclusion,” which means bad bite. The practice of orthodontics requires professional skill in the design, application, and control of corrective appliances, such as braces, to bring teeth, lips and jaws into proper alignment to achieve facial balance.
An orthodontist is a dental specialist in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. Orthodontists must first attend college, followed by a four-year graduate dental program at a university level dental school accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). They must then successfully complete an additional two to three-year residency program of advanced dental education in orthodontics accredited by the ADA. Only dentists who have successfully completed this advanced specialty education may become an orthodontist.
Most malocclusions are inherited, and some are acquired. Inherited problems include crowding of teeth, too much space between teeth, extra teeth, congenitally missing teeth, and a wide range of discrepancies of the jaws, teeth, and face. Acquired problems can be caused by trauma, thumb or finger sucking, airway obstruction by tonsils and adenoids, dental diseases, and premature loss of baby or adult teeth. Many of these problems affect not only the alignment of teeth but also facial development and appearance as well.
Although determining if treatment is necessary is difficult for you to assess, the following signs may help in prompting you to seek orthodontic advice: crowded or overlapping teeth, gaps between the teeth, front top teeth not lining up with the bottom teeth, top front teeth not meeting with bottom teeth, and top front teeth covering more than 50% of the bottom teeth. If you see any misalignment or shifting of the jaw, your child may have a skeletal problem, which may require early orthodontic treatment. These are only some of the obvious symptoms of orthodontic problems.
The American Association of Orthodontics recommends that your child be evaluated by age seven. An orthodontic screening no later than age seven enables the orthodontist to detect and evaluate problems that exist, advise if treatment will be necessary, and determine the best time for the treatment. Early detection of any orthodontic problems is important in order to take early corrective action and avoid more difficult treatment later.
Age is not a factor in considering orthodontic treatment for adults. Any adult in good general health with healthy gums and good bone support for the teeth is a candidate for orthodontic treatment. About 25% of our orthodontic patients are adults, and that number is still growing!
Orthodontic treatment has improved dramatically. As a rule, braces make your teeth tender and sore for a few days, but it is not painful. This annoyance can be relieved with an over-the-counter analgesic. Today’s braces are more comfortable and use technology that reduces the discomfort. We use the latest in biocompatible braces, the advanced technique with light force and the highest quality of orthodontic materials, in order to reduce discomfort and treatment time.
Braces may be on between 6 to 30 months or, in rare instances, longer. This depends on the development of the dentition, the severity of the problem, patient cooperation, and the degree of tooth movement required.
Each treatment is a way to address crowding of the teeth. Extraction therapy is a technique where one or more permanent teeth are removed to make room for the other teeth in the mouth. This is in contrast to non-extraction therapy where one expands a patient’s jaw and/or adjusts the size and shape of some teeth to make them fit within the jaw. Our office’s treatment philosophy is very conservative, and we do make every effort to avoid extraction. However, for severe crowding and severe jaw discrepancy, the extraction approach may be required.