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Friday, February 27, 2015

Why See an Orthodontist?

An orthodontist examining dental braces of a patient
Since this week's blog focused on lingual braces (which you can read all about here), we've focused part 3 of our Dental Specialities Miniseries on orthodontics. The term orthodontist is most likely already familiar to you. The American Dental Association describes the specialty of orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics as including the: "diagnosis, prevention, interception , and correction of malocclusion, as well as neuromuscular and skeletal abnormalities of the developing or mature oral facial structures."

Patients most commonly visit an orthodontist to address problems with the way their teeth or jaw fit together. This poor alignment is called "malocclusion." The following are several common types malocclusion.
  • Crowding/Spacing: When the teeth have too much or not enough room to grow in, they may not come in properly, resulting in crooked and poor orientation of the teeth that are not ideal for chewing, speaking, dental health or cosmetics.
  • Overbites: An overbite occurs when the upper teeth reach too far down over the bottom ones.
  • Underbites: When the lower front teeth extend farther than the upper front teeth, an underbite occurs.
  • Buck Teeth: Also called upper protrusion or overjet, this type of malocclusion occurs when the top front teeth are pushed outward from the mouth. Extended use of pacifiers or severe thumb sucking habits are frequently correlated to this type of bite problem.
  • Additional Malocclusion types include: misplaced midline, open bite, cross bite, rotation, and transposition.

An orthodontist completes three additional years of training and residency following dental school in order to have the knowledge and experience to address these and other abnormalities of the oral facial structures.

Some common treatments you would expect to find happening in an orthodontic practice are:
  • Braces - several types including metal/traditional braces, ceramic bracket braces, lingual braces and invisalign - used to straighten teeth and help correctly align your bite
  • Retainers - both fixed and removable, are used to help maintain alignment of teeth
  • Spacers - used to create or maintain space between teeth
  • Expanders - put gentle pressure on your molars to widen the upper and/or lower jaw
  • Headgear - used when there is a difference in growth between your lower and upper jaws

Correction of malocclusions has benefits that reach much farther than just cosmetically straight teeth (though a great smile is certainly a wonderful thing!) Crooked teeth increase your risk for tooth decay and gum disease as overlapping surfaces are much more difficult to keep clean and plaque free. And, a poor bite can have a negative effect on speech articulation, the ability to efficiently chew and swallow and create pain and discomfort in the muscles of the head and neck.

The AAO (American Academy of Orthodontics) recommends that every child be evaluated by an orthodontist (even if no adverse issues are noticed) by age seven. Typical treatment begins anywhere from age nine to fourteen. However, being aware of issues early on when the jaw is still developing can lead to interventions that decrease the time or extent of future treatments.

And, orthodontic care isn't just for kids and teens. The numbers of adults wearing braces and correcting their smiles and bites are on the rise. If you have questions or concerns about how your teeth fit together or are unhappy with how your smile looks, try giving an orthodontist a call. Most practices will meet with you for a free consultation and many dental insurance policies cover at least a portion of orthodontic care.