Orthodontics is the specialised branch of dentistry that deals with the treatment of irregularities in the alignment of teeth and jaws. Specialists in this field are referred to as Orthodontists.
Normal dental anatomy ensures that the teeth of the lower and upper jaw fit together perfectly so that the process of mastication can go on seamlessly. When one or more of the teeth are crooked or misaligned, it puts more biting pressure on some of the teeth and interferes with the way the teeth bite together.
This increases the risk of injury to the gum and causes a build-up of plaque, as it becomes more difficult to access and properly clean the affected teeth. Tooth decay develops, and there is a possibility of developing gum disease. Tooth misalignment also wears the affected teeth unevenly, creating cosmetic problems that may impact negatively on the self-confidence of the individual.
Some dental conditions are easier to correct at a very young age when the jaw is still growing and the teeth still developing. Orthodontic treatment at that early age is referred to as interceptive orthodontics. Early intervention can prevent cross-bites from leading to an uneven growth of the jaws. Functional appliances can also improve incorrectly positioned arches and jaws if addressed early in life.
An increasing number of adults are stepping forward to take orthodontic treatment. According to the Seton Hill University Center for Orthodontics, 20 -25% of orthodontic patients are adults.
Orthodontists utilise a range of dental devices to correct irregularities in teeth and jaw alignment. These include removable and fixed braces.
A removable brace is a plate with delicate wires and springs attached which can be used to move the teeth by applying gentle pressure. They are used for simple treatments and can be removed for cleaning.
A fixed brace can be made from metal, plastic or ceramic and cannot be removed at will, except by a dental practitioner. It consists of tiny brackets attached to the front of each tooth, joined together by arch wires.
By tightening the archwire periodically, the orthodontist puts tension on the teeth, gradually moving them into position until the desired results are achieved. When the braces come off, they can be replaced by a retainer in both the upper and lower jaws to hold the teeth in place.
Modern braces are smaller, lighter, less conspicuous and more comfortable than the traditional ones. Technological advances in orthodontics have led to the development of new materials and more efficient techniques for moving the teeth into proper position.
Clear plastic aligners which are less noticeable are now used in place of traditional metal braces. Apart from the obvious aesthetic advantage, they can achieve the desired results in a shorter time.
Lingual braces are even less visible because they are placed on the interior side of the teeth. Although they are more expensive than traditional braces, they are sought after by individuals who are conscious of the cosmetic benefit.