Frequently Asked Questions About Orthodontics
What is orthodontics?
Orthodontia is sort of like dentistry, but it’s far more specialized. Also called dentofacial orthopedics by some doctors, orthodontics focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of abnormalities with your teeth and jaw.
These abnormalities are called malocclusions, and they can be as simple as teeth that aren’t straight, or as serious as bone structure issues that are causing problems with your bite.
What is an orthodontist?
Orthodontists complete dental school just like your family dentist, and then they receive 2 to 3 more years of specialized training and experience. While some dentists may offer basic services like braces, only an orthodontist is qualified to straighten your teeth, correct jaw structure issues, and improve the actual function of your bite and smile.
What’s the best age to first visit an orthodontist?
Officially, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children have their first visit with an orthodontist around age 7. Every mouth is different, though, and you might want to see your family orthodontist a little earlier if you notice problems with your child’s teeth or bite.
Orthodontia isn’t just for kids, of course. About 20% of all orthodontia patients are 21 or older, and your family orthodontist can help you determine the right time to get appliances for your teen.
What causes orthodontic problems?
In most cases, malocclusions are genetic, meaning you inherit them from your parents. Crowded teeth, spacing issues, extra teeth, jaw growth and formation problems, and other common crooked teeth issues are all determined mostly by your genes.
Sometimes, behaviors and diseases can cause orthodontic issues, too. Thumb sucking is an example of a bad habit that can cause malocclusions, and certain dental diseases can create problems that are addressed by orthodontia. You may also have alignment or jaw issues from accidents, injuries, and other trauma to your mouth or jaw.
Why is treatment so important?
Think about how much you use your mouth!
Orthodontic treatment is way more than just a cosmetic treatment. An orthodontist addresses problems like your jaw position, your bite, the way your teeth fit together, and things like crowding that can make it impossible to clean your teeth properly. Without treatment, you’re likely to experience more serious problems later, including:
- Jaw strain and pain
- Enamel wear
- Gum disease
- Difficulty chewing or speaking
- Bone loss
Having a beautiful smile that makes you feel confident is definitely important and shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s just not the only thing you should consider.
Am I a good fit for orthodontic treatment?
An experienced orthodontist can do a lot more than you might expect! Still, every case is different, and without a personal consultation, you won’t know your options.
Schedule a consultation with a local orthodontist to get personalized recommendations about orthodontic treatment.
Can I get braces or other orthodontic treatment with missing teeth?
If you have missing teeth and you’re considering getting braces or aligners, that’s not a problem at all. In fact, getting orthodontic treatment can help stabilize your bite and help you keep your mouth healthy.
The best treatment option will depend on your future plans. If you want to replace your missing tooth, your orthodontist can keep the space open. Especially if your tooth has been missing for awhile, orthodontic treatment can really help.
You may not want to replace your missing tooth, and in that case, your orthodontist may be able to close the gap. Even if there will still be some space, treatment can help stabilize your bite to prevent and minimize shifting and bone loss in the future. Your orthodontist will work with your dentist and any other specialists to get the best possible result.
I’ve been treated for gum disease. Can I still undergo orthodontic treatment?
While you’re getting orthodontic treatment, your teeth will move and put strain on your gums. Your orthodontist will have to consult with your periodontist and your dentist about the health of your gums to determine if you’re ready for treatment.
If your periodontist clears you for orthodontic treatment, you’ll continue having regular visits with your dentist or periodontist in addition to your orthodontist, just to make sure everything is going well. Many patients find that fixing their malocclusions is an important to keep gums healthy.
Is Orthodontic Treatment effective for adults?
As long as you have healthy teeth, you’re never too old for orthodontic treatment. Age doesn’t really figure in when determining treatment efficacy.
Lots of adults choose to get braces or clear aligners to create a better bite, address malocclusions, and decrease the risk of future dental problems. If you’re worried about the way you’ll look with braces, there are plenty of discreet options available, too.
Can I get an appliance that is less noticeable?
Modern orthodontic appliances aren’t what they used to be. For teens and adults who want something less visible than traditional braces, you have a variety of options.
Not all appliances are right for every situation, but you can definitely find an option that works for you. Ask your orthodontist about discreet aligners and brackets during your first consult.
Will orthodontic treatment fit my lifestyle?
Whether you’re considering treatment as an adult or your teen is concerned about getting braces, there are plenty of modern treatment options that suit pretty much any lifestyle.
Your treatment won’t stop you from doing the things you already love, like playing musical instruments and participating in sports. You’ll still look great in photos, too.
Of course there will be some temporary adjustments during your treatment. For just a little while, you’ll want to avoid certain foods and take special care to keep your appliances clean. The vast majority of orthodontia patients adapt quickly and don’t find their treatment disruptive at all.
How can I take care of my teeth if I’m wearing braces, aligners, or a retainer?
While you have an orthodontic appliance, it’s especially important to keep it clean and fresh. Here are some tips:
- Floss every day at least once, and brush your teeth after each meal
- Use a fluoride toothpaste, and if your orthodontist recommends it, a fluoride rinse as well
- Whenever you take out your retainer, put it safely in its case. Brush and floss before putting it back in
- Gently brush your retainer to keep it clean, and use denture cleaning solution if desired
- Never put your retainer in hot water or the dishwasher
- Try to avoid sugary foods during treatment
- Follow your orthodontist’s recommendations and avoid sticky, chewy, and hard foods that can get stuck in your braces
- Keep your regular dentist appointments
What are braces?
This seems like an obvious answer, but modern braces might not be what you think. Options include:
- Ceramic Braces
- Lingual Braces
- Self-ligating Brace
- Traditional Metal Braces
Each of these is composed of brackets and wires, but the appearance, placement, and technologies are far beyond what you remember from your school days. Ask your orthodontist about the different types.
If I get braces, how long do I have to wear them?
Treatment time varies from person to person, and it depends on your malocclusions, how your teeth respond to treatment, and how well you follow directions. Orthodontic treatment takes anywhere from 6 months to 30 months, and the average treatment time is about 22 months.
Do braces hurt?
Modern braces are far more comfortable than what you might remember from 15 years ago. There may be a little bit of discomfort as your teeth, gums, and mouth get used to the appliances, but an over the counter pain reliever helps.
Do I need to brush my teeth more often if I have braces?
As long as you have braces on, you should brush your teeth about 3 times daily (after each meal) and floss at least once per day. It’s important to remove any food that might get caught under your wires.
Your orthodontist can show you the best way to brush and floss around your brackets.
If I have braces, do I still need dental checkups every six months?
Definitely keep having checkups with your dentist every 6 months during orthodontic treatment! It’s even more important, because your dentist can make sure your teeth are clean and healthy.
Braces can cause food to get caught where your toothbrush can’t reach, which leads to bacteria buildup and might contribute to cavities, gum disease, and other hygiene issues. Your dentist is your best line of defense and will make sure that your teeth and gums stay healthy while your orthodontist works on the smile you want.
Will my braces interfere with my school activities like sports, playing an instrument, or singing?
Braces won’t stop you from participating in any of the activities you love, though you might want to make some adjustments for comfort and safety. Wear a mouthguard if you play any kind of contact sport, and give your mouth a little bit of time to adjust to your braces. If you find that you’re a little uncomfortable while playing an instrument or participating in other activities, ask about using an over the counter pain reliever to help.
What is my role in treatment?
Your orthodontist takes care of your mouth for about 1 day out of every month. You take care of your mouth every day.
Successful orthodontic treatment requires a partnership between you and your orthodontist. They can help guide you through the process, provide appliances, and make those carefully calibrated adjustments to slowly move your teeth into their proper positions.
Its your job to follow instructions, keep your appointments, and keep up with your oral hygiene so that the end result is exactly what it’s supposed to be. You should also keep seeing your regular dentist every 6 months for checkups, because decay and cavities don’t teak a break just because you’re getting your teeth straightened.
How much does treatment cost?
There’s a lot to consider when calculating your treatment costs. Like we’ve said in earlier answers, every mouth is different, and the price of your treatment will depend on your choices and your needs. Depending on the severity of your malocclusions, the complexity of treatment, and the options you select, your costs could vary dramatically.
Most patients find that treatment is far more affordable than they expect. With payment plans, insurance benefits, and flex spending accounts, you can likely get the smile you want with low monthly payments. Ask about fees and options before your treatment begins.