There are many reasons why a dentist may recommend orthodontic treatment.
It is used to correct a malocclusion (bad bite), a condition caused by crowded, crooked or protruding teeth; teeth that are out of alignment; or jaws that do not meet properly. Malocclusion may be inherited, or it may be the result of thumb sucking, the premature loss of teeth or an accident.
Correcting the problem can result in better oral health because crooked and crowded teeth can make daily oral hygiene difficult. Over time, this may lead to tooth decay, periodontal disease and possibly tooth loss. An improper bite can interfere with chewing and speaking, cause abnormal wear to tooth enamel and lead to problems with the jaws.
Orthodontic treatment often is more comfortable and takes less time than it did years ago. Braces can be as inconspicuous as the patient desires. Brackets (the part of the braces that attach to each tooth) are smaller. Some brackets are attached to the back of the teeth, making them less noticeable.
Two types of braces are available: fixed, which are worn all of the time and can be removed only by the dentist, and removable, which the patient can take out of his or her mouth. The dentist selects the type based on the patient’s treatment needs and how well he or she will follow instructions regarding care and oral hygiene.
Although treatment plans are customized for each patient, most people wear their braces for one to three years depending on the conditions that need correcting. This is followed by a period of wearing a retainer that holds the teeth in their new positions. Although a little discomfort is expected during treatment, today’s braces are more comfortable than ever before. Newer materials apply a constant, gentle force to move teeth and usually require fewer adjustments.
Good oral hygiene is especially important for people wearing braces. Brushing regularly, as directed by the dentist, flossing daily and scheduling dental visits can help keep teeth healthy.