What are Orthodontics?

What are Orthodontics?

Most people know that braces go on the teeth to help straighten them, and that you go to an orthodontist to get braces. Beyond that, it is common to have questions or want to gain an understanding about orthodontics. This is especially true if you or your child’s dentist has identified a potential issue that could benefit from orthodontic care.

To answer questions and help you make informed decisions for you or your child, this guide will provide clear and easy-to-understand answers about orthodontics. From the common conditions it treats, to standard orthodontic treatments, to when children should see an orthodontist, our goal is to enable you and your child to make the best possible decision for a happy and healthy smile.

Orthodontics Explained

Orthodontics is a specialized branch of dentistry that deals in treating misaligned teeth and jaws. The term is rooted in the Greek words for straight, ortho, and tooth, which is dontos. Orthodontists are dental school graduates who undergo specialized training to diagnose and treat these misalignments and bite problems, called malocclusions.

Although there are cosmetic factors associated with malocclusions and misaligned teeth, they can also have an impact on oral health. For example, crowded teeth are harder to brush and increase the risk of tooth decay. Additionally, a misaligned jaw can cause painful and potentially harmful issues such as tooth grinding or clenching.

What Conditions and Issues Can Orthodontics Treat?

Types of orthodontic conditions commonly treated by orthodontists include:

  • Overbite, when the upper jaw protrudes over the lower jaw
  • Underbite, when the lower jaw protrudes past the upper jaw
  • Crossbite, when the upper and lower jaw do not come together correctly when biting
  • Crowding and overlapping teeth
  • Crooked and rotating teeth
  • Narrow palate

By diagnosing these conditions early and providing appropriate treatment, orthodontists can help to correct orthodontic issues for an improved appearance and better oral health.

Types of Orthodontic Treatments

Common orthodontic treatments include:

  • Braces, such as traditional metal braces to align the teeth and help fix limited bite problems
  • Alternative types of braces, such as ceramic braces or rear-facing lingual braces
  • Clear aligners, also known as Invisalign
  • Palate expanders, which can help to widen the jaw
  • Orthodontic headgear, to correct bite problems that braces alone cannot address
  • Retainers, a small appliance which helps to maintain alignment after braces are removed

The orthodontic treatment or treatments recommended to each patient can vary depending on factors like age, severity of the condition, and overall oral health.

Benefits of Orthodontics

Orthodontic treatment offers the following benefits to patients:

  • Teeth are easier to maintain and care for and clean
  • Reduced risk of tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease
  • Can help improve speech and chewing function
  • Ease pain and discomfort in the jaw, and potentially prevent more serious issues such as temporomandibular jaw (TMJ) disorder
  • Improve the appearance of the teeth and mouth

Results can vary for patients and are dependent on other factors, such as oral hygiene, diet, and overall health.

Are There Disadvantages to Orthodontics?

The main disadvantages to orthodontics are usually temporary. The biggest issue most orthodontic patients encounter is temporary discomfort after braces or another orthodontic appliance is first put on. This will usually improve with time as your mouth heals and you get used to the new device.

Additionally, many patients have concerns about the appearance of braces or other orthodontic treatments and the potential social implications this can involve. Talk to your orthodontist about how to address this with adolescents, or potential alternatives to braces, such as Invisalign.

Another potential area of concern is the need to properly clean and maintain orthodontic hardware. For example, food particles and other debris that get stuck in braces due to lack of care can damage the appliance, increase the risk of tooth decay, and may require additional treatment. This is why it is essential for patients to follow all care instructions provided by their orthodontist and maintain good oral hygiene habits.

Can Orthodontics Treat Children?

Orthodontists will generally see children as young as seven. Pediatric dentists can often identify issues that may benefit from orthodontic treatment. A qualified pediatric orthodontist can perform an evaluation and help create a care plan to meet the specific needs of younger patients.

In most cases, orthodontists will generally wait until all adult teeth have come in before recommending braces. Depending on the patient, this will usually be sometime between the age of 10 to 14, usually around 12 years old.

For younger children, orthodontists may recommend certain treatments, such as palate expanders, that can help improve the effectiveness of braces when they are put on later.

When To See an Orthodontist

You or your child should see an orthodontist for an evaluation of any potential aesthetic or oral health issues related to tooth or jaw alignment. In some cases, orthodontists require a referral from a dentist.

You can also take to your or your child’s dentist for a recommendation for orthodontic treatment or help identifying potential issues.

Keep Your Family’s Teeth Healthy with the Help of Florida Children’s Dentistry

Going to the dentist or orthodontist can be scary — we get it. But it should be fun! Whether it’s care for baby teeth, big kid teeth, oral surgery, or orthodontics, our team of specialized pediatric dentists make the experience memorable while teaching you how to encourage healthy habits and good hygiene for lifelong smiles. Call us today or request an appointment online. We can’t wait to meet you!