Orthodontics is the dental specialty that focuses on the development, prevention, and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite, and jaws. Orthodontists also have specialized training in facial abnormalities and disorders of the jaw. A parent may consult an orthodontist after receiving a referral from their child's general dentist. However, the American Dental Association recommends that every child receive an orthodontic evaluation by the age of seven.
Any orthodontic problem may be classified as a malocclusion, or "bad bite." The following problems may be helped or minimized with proper orthodontic treatment:
Misaligned, crooked, or crowded teeth
Misaligned or incorrect jaw position
A disorder of the jaw joint
In most cases, the ideal age for braces and other orthodontic treatments is between 10 and 14 years of age. Moving and correcting the alignment of the teeth follows the same biological and physical process regardless of age. However, an adult mouth must overcome already-positioned facial bones and jaw structure. Thus, overcoming most types of malocclusions may require more than one type of orthodontic treatment for adults and can sometimes involve jaw surgery.
Braces, also called fixed orthodontic appliances, generally come in three varieties:
Brackets, metal or plastic, clear or tooth-colored, that are bonded to teeth
Lingual-type brackets that attach to the back of teeth, hidden from view
Bands that cover most of the teeth with metal bands that wrap around the teeth
All three types use wires to move the teeth to the desired position. Clear, removable teeth aligners may also be an option. Ask your orthodontist.
The following recommendations will help to eliminate, or reduce, any oral health problems while your child's teeth are in braces:
Make certain that your child is brushing his/her teeth carefully after every meal with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush, as food becomes easily lodged in the braces. A new toothbrush may be needed every three to four months, or sooner if bristles are broken or frayed. A worn toothbrush doesn't do a good job of cleaning the teeth.
Make certain that your child is flossing daily between the teeth and the braces. A floss threader may be useful to carry the floss under the arch wire.
Maintain every six month cleanings by your child's dentist or orthodontist, or as recommended.
Limit your child's sugar and starch intake, as debris left behind from these types of foods may turn into damaging acids, which may be harmful to teeth and gums and promote plaque formation.
Avoid hard and/or sticky snacks that may be difficult to remove from the orthodontic equipment in your child's mouth. This includes hard foods such as popcorn, hard candy, nuts, and ice chips, and sticky foods like chewing gum, caramel, and other chewy candy.
Ask your dentist about the application of a fluoride varnish around the braces to minimize white spots on the teeth after the braces come off.