Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that specializes in diagnosing, preventing and treating dental and facial irregularities. The technical term for these problems is malocclusion, which means “bad bite”.

An orthodontist is a dental specialist who has completed college, four years of dental school and two to three years in a residency program accredited by the American Dental Association in advanced education in orthodontics. An orthodontist treats the misalignment of teeth and facial development with braces, retainers, headgear and other methods. Only a dentist that has completed the additional years of training and education after dental school is an orthodontist.

The benefits of orthodontics include: 
• Improved ability to practice good oral hygiene
• A reduced risk of injury to protruded front teeth
• A more attractive smile
• Possible increase in self-confidence
• Reduced appearance-consciousness during critical development years
• Better function of the teeth
• Improved wear patterns and force distribution of the teeth
• Better long-term health of gums and teeth
• The ability to guide permanent teeth into more favorable positions
• Aids in optimizing other dental treatment

Some indications that braces may be needed include:
• Upper front teeth protrude over the lower teeth, causing an overbite
• Lower front teeth protrude over or in front of the upper front teeth, causing an underbite
• Upper front teeth cover most of the lower teeth when biting together, resulting in a deep bite
• The upper and lower front teeth do not touch when biting together, resulting in an open bite
• The lower jaw experiences movement to one side or the other when biting together
• Teeth are overlapped or crowded
• The center of the upper and lower teeth do not line up
• Finger- or thumb-sucking habits which continue after six or seven years old
• Difficulty chewing
• Teeth wearing unevenly or excessively
• Spaces exist between the teeth

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children have an initial orthodontic screening at age 7. The reason for this is that any problems related to orthodontics are easily corrected when they are detected before jaw growth has slowed. Early treatment also may prevent a patient from needing surgery or suffering from more serious complications later in life.

Orthodontic treatment can be as successful for adults as for children. Today, more than 25 percent of all orthodontic patients are adults.

Phase I treatment is also referred to as early interceptive treatment. It is a limited orthodontic treatment that typically is performed on children between ages 6 and 10. Phase I treatment involves straightening the front permanent teeth to create room for the remaining permanent teeth that erupt at age 12. It also is used to correct jaw growth problems, overbites and underbites. Undergoing Phase I treatment reduces the likelihood that permanent teeth will have to be extracted in the future.

Phase II treatment is also known as comprehensive treatment because it involves full braces when all of the permanent teeth have erupted, usually between the ages of 11 and 13.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How does orthodontic treatment work?
Braces help apply gentle, steady pressure to move teeth into their proper positions over time. The main components of braces are the brackets that are affixed to the teeth and the archwire that connects them. Once the archwire is secured into the brackets, it tries to return to its original shape. As it does so, it applies pressure to move your teeth to their correct positions.

How long does orthodontic treatment take?
The length of treatment varies from patient to patient, depending on the type and severity of problems. Generally speaking, treatment typically takes a year and a half to two years to complete. The length and success of treatment is partially reliant upon patient compliance.

Do braces hurt?
Placing appliances on the teeth is not a painful process. Once the braces and archwires are secured, patients may experience some tenderness of the teeth for several days. It also may take a couple of weeks for the lips and cheeks to grow accustomed to the braces.

Can you play sports if you have braces?
Yes, but it is important that patients with braces wear a mouthguard when participating in sporting events. A mouthguard serves as a shock absorber to protect teeth from fracturing and hardware from breaking.

Can you still play musical instruments if you have braces?
Yes. However, it may take some time to adjust to the braces. Oral brace covers may be helpful in preventing gum discomfort while playing musical instruments.

Should I see my general dentist while I have braces?
Yes. Routine dental cleanings and exams- performed every six months- are recommended to maintain optimum oral health.

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