Many people, upon hearing the word “orthodontics,” think of braces, and when they think of braces, they think of teenagers.
Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that corrects irregularities and malocclusions (mal = poor; occlusion = the relation between the two opposing surfaces of the teeth of the upper and lower jaws). These can occur at any time in your life, and you are never too old to have any such problem corrected.
What can orthodontics correct?
There are four main categories of problems that orthodontics can help correct:
- Misaligned teeth
- Crowded teeth
What Are Misaligned Teeth?
Besides affecting a person’s smile and appearance, these conditions can cause a variety of problems, including:
- An inability to chew food thoroughly or discomfort when chewing. This, in turn, can cause problems with digestion, since saliva is produced when you chew, and the enzymes in saliva begin the digestive process.
- Biting of the tongue or inside the cheeks when you chew
- A lisp or other problems with speech
- A tendency to breathe through the mouth instead of the nose, because the mouth does not properly close.
- A change to the way the face looks, because the teeth of either the upper or lower jaw protrude into the tissue around the lips
What Are Crowded Teeth?
“Crowded teeth” refers to a condition in which the mouth does not have enough room for all your teeth. The result is that teeth shift, become crooked and overlap each other.
There are a number of causes of crooked teeth. Most commonly, the condition is inherited, but it can also be caused by:
- Losing baby teeth early
- Losing adult teeth
- Gum disease (gingivitis)
- Oral tumors
- Poor fit or shaping of fillings or dental restorations (bridges and crowns)
- An injury to the jaw
What Is an Overbite?
Overbite is a condition in which the teeth of the upper jaw extend out and down over the lower jaw’s lip and teeth. It is often seen in people who sucked their thumb when they were quite young. Thumb-sucking forces the upper teeth forward while pushing the lower teeth backward. The affected teeth are usually the four front teeth, in the central part of the upper jaw. These are called the “incisors.”
What Is an Underbite?
Underbite is a condition in which the teeth of the lower jaw extend out and up over the upper jaw’s lip and teeth. Most frequently an underbite refers to the lower incisors, which are the four front teeth in the central part of the lower jaw.
Correcting Malocclusions in Adults
Occasionally, if a jaw misalignment is severe, surgical intervention may be required. This is not typical, and a non-surgical approach is usually sufficient.
The non-surgical approach usually consists of wearing braces for a period of from 12 to 18 months to slowly move the teeth into their desired positions. This is accompanied by shifting the bone and growing new bone and gum tissue around them.
After the braces are removed, patients are required to wear a retainer. The purpose of the retainer is to prevent the newly positioned teeth from shifting or going back to their original position. This is necessary because it takes approximately 10 months after the braces are removed for the teeth to attain stability in their new position.
Initially, the retainer must be worn around the clock. Your orthodontist will determine when you can shift to nights only or just a few times a week.