When braces have done their job and moved your teeth into the desired position, you will still need to take steps to ensure they don’t move back.
You will normally be given retainers to wear after the braces are no longer needed to ensure the teeth don’t drift to their original position.
The most popular type of retainer uses metal hooks that surround the teeth enclosed by an acrylic plate shaped to fit your palate.
If your teeth are not ready for a retainer, your orthodontist may suggest using a pre-finisher.
This is made of rubber and is similar to a mouth guard. It fixes gaps between the teeth, small spaces between the upper and lower jaw, and other minor problems that braces cannot fix.
A pre-finisher is molded to your teeth with pressure applied. You then be advised to apply pressure to it for a few seconds at a time over a set period until it completes its job.
The retainer and pre-finisher are temporary and can be moved in and out of your mouth.
While many people think braces are only for straightening teeth, they actually help deal with many other problems.
Crowded Teeth: Sometimes your mouth is not big enough to hold all your teeth in the right place. Crowded teeth may become impacted and affect your bite. Crowding can be corrected by removal of teeth as well as braces.
Overbite: Upper teeth extend too far out over the lower teeth. The gap between the upper and lower teeth may lead you to injure your gums or lips. It can also cause your lips to be pushed forward meaning you are not able to close your lips completely over your teeth.
Underbite: Your lower teeth extend in front of your upper teeth. It is usually caused by having a lower jaw longer than the upper jaw.
Crossbite: Some of your upper teeth bite down inside the lower teeth but others bite down correctly. If you suffer from this, you may have problems chewing.
Open Bite: Your lower and upper incisor teeth do not touch when you bite down. This puts a lot of pressure on the back teeth when chewing and biting. If you suffer from this, you might rub your teeth together without intending to.
Space Problems: If you have teeth that are smaller than normal, or you have lost important teeth, you may have spacing problems. The teeth may spread out and, if the spaces become too large, you might have problems biting and chewing. However, the main issue with space problems is often cosmetic.
While regular metal braces with an arch wire and elastics are still the most common, some people opt for a different approach.
One option is lingual or “hidden” braces which are fixed to the inside of the teeth.
They still use brackets and wires, but those brackets and wires cannot generally be seen by others.
Rather than having brackets bonded to the teeth and wires attached with elastic, lingual braces have brackets built for each tooth.
The brackets are fixed to each tooth with cement and then the arch wire is threaded through the brackets.
Pros of Lingual Braces
They look better than regular braces
They work as effectively as regular braces
Food caught in them is not usually visible to others
May be more stable than other options
Cons of Lingual Braces
They can take longer to get used to
The way you talk may be affected, especially at first
Caring for them is more difficult
Cleaning takes longer
They can be more expensive as they have to be custom made and installation is more complex
Dental retainers are devices used to keep teeth in the desired position after braces are removed.
After braces are removed, it still takes some time for teeth to settle into the jawbone and the soft tissue.
Without appropriate action, they might drift back in to the original position.
Retainers can be fixed or removable.
Removable retainers can be taken off to eat or brush your teeth. You wear them all the time for about a year and then wear them only at night for a further period.
Fixed retainers are permanently glued to your teeth and can only be removed by your dentist.
The most common type is Hawley Retainers, which have a plastic base following the shape of your mouth.
This is connected to a wire that wraps around your teeth, keeping them in place.
Essix Retainers are made of clear plastic and some patients prefer them as they cannot be seen but they don’t last as long as Hawley retainers.
As well as keeping your teeth in position after wearing braces, retainers can also be used to correct other minor orthodontic problems that don’t require a full set of dental braces.
For example, they may be used to move just one tooth or correct a slight malocclusion.
Here are definitions of some of the most common orthodontic terms.
Impressions: A mold of your teeth which is used to make a model of them
Panoramic x-ray: An x-ray made by a machine that rotates around your head to give a full picture of your teeth and jaws
Closed bite: Where the upper teeth cover the lower teeth on biting down
Crossbite: Where some upper teeth are inside the lower teeth on biting down
Crowding: Too many teeth in too small a space
Fixed Appliance: Cemented or bonded to the teeth
Lingual Appliances: Fixed to the inside of the teeth
Malocclusion: Poor positioning of your teeth
Class I: Bite is fine as top teeth line up with bottom teeth but teeth are crooked or crowded
Class II: Upper teeth stick out past lower teeth (also called an “overbite”)
Class III: Lower teeth stick out past upper teeth (also called an “underbite”)
Occlusion: The alignment and spacing of upper and lower teeth on biting down
Open Bite: Teeth do not close or come together in the front of your mouth
Proper Occlusion: All teeth are straight and top teeth line up with bottom teeth
Wax Bite: Bitemark left on wax to measure how well teeth are aligned
Here are definitions of some of the key terms used for the different elements of braces.
Appliance: Something attached to teeth to move them or change the shape of the jaw
Arch Wire: Metal wire which is attached to brackets to move teeth
Band: Metal ring placed on teeth to hold on parts of braces
Bracket: Device glued on to teeth to fasten the arch wire
Orthodontic Chain: Used to hold archwires into brackets and to move teeth
Ligating Module: Small plastic donut-shaped device to hold the arch wires in the brackets
Lingual Appliances: Orthodontic devices fixed to inside of teeth
Mouthguard: Protects your mouth from injury during sports and other activities to limit injuries
Retainer: Device usually worn for some time after braces removed to hold teeth in position
Wax: Helps stop braces from irritating your lips especially in early stages
Orthodontics is a special branch of dentistry that focuses on the treatment of teeth and jaws that are misaligned.
The word comes from the Greek words orthos meaning straight or proper, and odont meaning tooth.
It is concerned with the treatment of malocclusions or improper bites. These may arise from tooth irregularity, problems with the jaw or both.
You may seek orthodontic treatment for cosmetic reasons or for health reasons.
Cosmetic reasons are usually due to feeling low self esteem due to the appearance of your mouth or smile.
However more serious heath problems can include difficulties chewing, which can lead to digestion problems.
Issues with the alignment of your teeth and jaws can also cause sleep and breathing problems such as snoring or sleep apnea.
In addition, some orthodontists work on reconstructing the entire face rather than focusing exclusively on teeth.
Orthodontic treatment will depend on the diagnosis of the orthodontist after taking x-rays and molds.
The treatment may include braces or other devices to realign teeth. In sever cases, surgery may be needed.
Some estimates say that more than half the US population has problems with misaligned teeth or jaws so orthodontics plays an important role.