Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that corrects irregularities of the teeth and jaws. Treatment involves using a variety of appliances to move teeth to a better position by applying gentle forces.
As well as enhancing the appearance of teeth, there are a number of other benefits to receiving orthodontic treatment. It can improve eating and speaking ability, as well as encouraging better oral hygiene as teeth become easier to clean in their straighter position.
Braces can be used to successfully to treat a range of issues from crooked, crowded, overly spaced and twisted teeth to more serious malocclusions (upper and lower teeth not biting together properly) and misalignments.
These consist of metal brackets that are attached to the front surface of the teeth and thin metal wires held in place with elastics. Brackets are now generally smaller than they once were and they can also be customised with coloured elastics. More discreet fixed braces are also available featuring ceramic brackets and tooth coloured wires.
These are the most commonly used braces and are suitable for a wide range of conditions. They produce good results because they can move teeth very precisely.
- If your teeth are overcrowded, it may be necessary to remove one or more teeth prior to your brace fitting. If there is not enough space between teeth, bands can be inserted to create sufficient gaps.
- After your teeth have been cleaned and dried, brackets will be fixed in place with a strong dental adhesive. The wires are then attached to these brackets.
- The wire is shaped to encourage the teeth to move and, as it slowly returns to its original shape, it pulls the teeth with it. Initially, it moves the crown of the tooth and then goes on to move the root.
- Adjustments will be needed every 4-6 weeks.
Some people can experience a little discomfort during orthodontic treatment, particularly in the first few days after fitting or following a tightening appointment. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can ease any soreness and it may help to stick to a soft diet during this time.
Treatment times vary depending on the patient, but it normally takes 12-24 months for fixed braces to realign teeth. Following treatment, you will need to wear a retainer to keep your teeth in their new position.
Short term and more discreet orthodontic options
Orthodontic treatment is most commonly given to children, but it has become very popular with adults who are unhappy with their misaligned teeth. As well as fixed braces with ceramic brackets, there are a number of alternatives to traditional braces for older patients who may be unwilling to have very noticeable orthodontic treatment. These include:
Clear aligners – This subtle treatment uses tailor-made aligners to gradually move your teeth to a neater position. Its main advantage being that the clear aligners are virtually invisible. They are also comfortable and can be taken out, so you can keep your teeth and gums clean, and there is no restriction on what you can eat.
This system uses 3D technology to produce the aligners, which are then changed every two weeks so the movement of your teeth is precisely controlled. Treatment times are shorter and as there are no braces and wires, you’ll spend less time having adjustments.
Lingual braces – these braces are fixed to the inside (lingual) surface of the teeth. The process of straightening is similar to traditional braces with brackets and wires but they are kept well hidden.
Short term solutions
Faster acting solutions include braces that straighten only those teeth that show when you smile using advanced technology. These are fixed braces but they usually have clear brackets and tooth coloured wires, so are less noticeable.
Another short term solution is a custom-made aligner that uses a combination of pushing and pulling to move front teeth to an improved position. This has springs, two aligner bows and a thin bar that runs across the front of the teeth. It is an affordable way to change the alignment of your front teeth within just 8-16 weeks.
Caring for braces
It is important to keep your teeth and braces clean during orthodontic treatment. Use interdental brushes to get to all those tricky to reach places, particularly around the brackets. Also disclosing tablets can reveal leftover dental plaque, which you can then remove with your toothbrush. It’s a good idea to steer clear of sticky, chewy and sugary treats to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
After any type of orthodontic treatment, you will need to wear a retainer to keep your newly straightened teeth in line.