Orthodontics Q & A

These are the most frequently asked questions about orthodontics:

Who are orthodontists?

An orthodontist is a specialist in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities.  All orthodontis are dentists, but only about 6% of dentists are orthodontists.  After successfully completing 3-5 years of dental school, at least two or three additional academic years of advanced specialty education in an American Dental Association (ADA)-accredited orthodontic program are required to be an orthodontist.  The educational requirements to become an orthodontist are demanding.  The program includes advanced education in biomedical, behavioral and basic sciences.  An orthodontic resident learns the complex skills required to manage tooth movement (orthodontics) and guide facial development (dentofacial orthopedics).  Only dentists who have successfully completed an ADA accredited advanced specialty program may call themselves orthodontists.

What causes orthodontic problems?

Most orthodontic problems are inherited.  Examples of these genetic problems are crowding, spacing, protrusion, extra or missing teeth and some jaw growth problems.  Other malocclusions are acquired.  In other words, they develop over time.  They can be caused by thumb-or finger-sucking, mouth breathing, dental disease, abnormal swallowing, poor dental hygiene, the early or late laoss of baby teeth, loss of permanent teeth, accidents, poor nutrition, or some medical problems.  But whatever the cause, an orthodontis is usually able to treat most conditions successfully.

What is orthodontics is why is it needed?

Orthodontics is that branch of dentistry that deals with straightening the teeth, improving bite problems (malocclusion) and creating beautiful smiles.  For most people, a beautiful smile is the most obvious benefit.  A beautiful smile can make you more self-confident, have greater self-esteem and drastically improve your personal life and career.

However, orthodontic treatment has other benefits.  Crooked teeth can be difficulty to clean, thereby increasing the possibility of tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss.  Also, poorly fitting teeth can lead to jaw joint discomfort, headaches and face and neck pain.  Straightening the teeth by orthodontic treatment can reduce the possibility of these problems occurring.

How does orthodontic treatment work?

There are several types of orthodontic appliances that can be used to help straighten teeth.  Braces, which are the most familiar, can be made of metal, plastic, or ceramic materials.  Braces place very gentle pressure on the teeth and/or jaws.  Over a period of time, the gently pressure moves the teeth and/or jaw into proper positions.  The patient may be instructed to wear rubber bands, headgear or other appliances to help correct the problem.  It is very important that the patient follow these instructions if successful results are to be achieved.

At what age should orthodontic treatment start?

Orthodontic treatment can be successful at any age.  It is recommended that a child receive an orthodontic evaluation by an orthodontist at age 7. Most orthodontic patients are in their early teens; however, the orthodontist may recommend early treatment while baby teeth are still present.  Even if a problem is detected at an early age, your orthodontist may not recommend immediate treatment.  Chances are, your doctor will take a "wait-and-see" approach, checking on your child from time to time as the permanent teeth come into place.  More and more adults are now enjoying of benefits of orthodontic treatment.  Remember, orthodontic treatment can be successful at any age.

How long is orthodontic treatment and how often will I need to visit the orthodontist?

On average, orthodontic treatment tends to take about 1 to 3 years, depending on the severity of the problem.  After the diagnosis, the orthodontist will place braces on the teeth, which are held together by flexible thin wires.  The teeth will move very slowly into their proper position over a period of time.  During treatment, the patient should expect to visit the orthodontist every 4-8 weeks for appliance adjustments.  After treatment is completed, the patient will be instructed to wear retainers to help keep the teeth from moving back to their original positions.

What happens after the braces are removed?

After the braces are removed, most patients wear a retainer for some time to keep or "retain" the teeth intheir new positions.  The orthodontis will determine how long the retainer are to be worn.

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