Orthodontics is a specialist branch of dentistry that deals with the diagnosis, prevention and correction of dental and facial irregularities occurring as a result of:
- A bad bite or malocclusion
- Missing or extra teeth
- Misaligned teeth
- Crooked teeth
- Crowed teeth
- An overbite
- An underbite
- Misaligned jaw position
- A disorder of the jaw joint
Orthodontic irregularities are generally treated with braces. Braces are usually made from wires and springs attached to tiny metal plates or a plastic mould. Braces apply gentle forces to teeth and encourage them to move slowly to adopt a different alignment. The best orthodontic results are achieved with children when their teeth are still growing; many adults have orthodontic treatment, but the process takes much longer.
The orthodontist will assess the teeth that need to be aligned and create either a fixed or removable brace, which can be adjusted during the course of the treatment to achieve the desired effect. The fixed braces, as their name implies, are permanent fixtures and are removed at the end of the treatment period, whereas removable braces can be taken off for eating and cleaning but are generally worn at all other times. Braces will improve the function of the teeth and the general appearance of the person.
What is a bad bite or malocclusion and what causes it?
A bad bite is the misalignment of teeth, jaws or the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which causes functional problems such as difficulty in chewing and talking, and may well affect the appearance of a person. It may occur genetically or as a result of the following conditions:
Trauma —fractured or knocked-out teeth in a growing child that, on replacement, fuses with the bone that surrounds them, resulting in an improper line up in the jaw
Prolonged thumb-sucking or pacifier use — can result in pronounced protrusion of upper teeth over the lower teeth.
Tongue-thrusting while swallowing — can result in pronounced protrusion of upper teeth over the lower teeth.
Premature loss of baby teeth — causing:
- The permanent tooth to erupt incorrectly, resulting in crowded or partially erupted teeth.
- The teeth next to the primary tooth to move into the vacant space and prevent the eruption of permanent tooth.
Why is orthodontic treatment crucial?
Beneficial in long-term dental health:
- Properly aligned teeth are easier to maintain with proper oral hygiene.
- Reduces the risk of tooth decay.
Improves chewing and digestion:
- Since people with bad bites chew less efficiently, it can, in severe cases, result in nutritional deficiencies.
- Misaligned upper and lower teeth can cause speaking difficulties.
Prevents premature wearing of back-tooth surfaces:
- Since the teeth withstand a tremendous amount of force when one bites down, in the case of people with improper bites, the back teeth are likely to wear out more quickly.
At what age can one start orthodontic screening and treatment?
Early childhood - you can have an orthodontic screening from the age of 7, by which time enough of the permanent teeth would have emerged, helping to identify potential problems. Do not wait for all the permanent teeth erupt in the mouth, as the earlier you start, the more the advantages.
During adolescent and teenage years – all permanent teeth would have come in by now, and treatment is most effective at this age
At adulthood - more complicated and often requires more than one dental professional to fully correct a problem.
What does orthodontic treatment involve?
There are two stages in orthodontic treatment
The active phase — which involves the use of braces or other appliances to correct the alignment and bite.
The retention phase — use of a retainer to hold the teeth that have been brought into their new position and ensure long-term results.
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