We Have the AnswersFrequently Asked Questions
Orthodontists are qualified dentists, who after graduating from dental school, go on to additional full-time university-based education in an accredited orthodontic residency program supervised by orthodontists. That training lasts three academic years. By learning about tooth movement (orthodontics) and guidance of facial development (dentofacial orthopedics), orthodontists are the uniquely trained experts in dentistry to straighten teeth and align jaws.
Orthodontists diagnose, prevent and treat dental and facial irregularities. The majority of members of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) limit their practices to orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. Orthodontists treat a wide variety of malocclusions (improperly aligned teeth and/or jaws). They regularly treat young children, teens and adults.
Selecting an orthodontist who is a member of the AAO is your assurance that you have chosen an orthodontist: the dental specialist with three years of post-doctoral, advanced specialty training in orthodontics in a university-based program accredited by the American Dental Association. Specialty education includes the study of subjects in biomedical, behavioral and basic sciences; oral biology; and biomechanics.
Only orthodontists may be members of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO).
An attractive smile is a wonderful asset. It contributes to self-esteem, self-confidence and self-image and important qualities at every age. A pleasing appearance is a vital component of self-confidence. A person’s self-esteem often improves as orthodontic treatment brings teeth, lips and face into proportion. In this way, orthodontic treatment can benefit social and career success, as well as improve a person’s general attitude toward life.
You may be surprised to learn that straight teeth are less prone to decay, gum disease and injury. Straight teeth collect less plaque, a colorless, sticky film composed of bacteria, food and saliva. Decay results when the bacteria in plaque feed on carbohydrates (sugar and starch) we eat or drink to produce acids that can cause cavities. Plaque can also increase the risk for periodontal (gum) disease. When teeth are properly aligned, and less plaque collects, these risks decline. And when teeth are properly aligned it is easier to keep teeth clean. As for injuries to teeth, protruding upper teeth are more likely to be broken in an accident. When repositioned and aligned with other teeth, these teeth are most probably going to be at a decreased risk for fracture.
Untreated orthodontic problems can cause abnormal wear of tooth surfaces, inefficient chewing function, excessive stress on gum tissue and the bone that supports the teeth, or misalignment of the jaw joints, sometimes leading to chronic headaches or pain in the face or neck. Treatment by an orthodontist to correct a problem early may be less costly than the restorative dental care required to treat more serious problems that can develop in later years.
After all the permanent teeth have come in, the pulling of permanent teeth may be necessary to correct crowding or to make space for necessary tooth movement to correct a bite problem. Proper extraction of teeth during orthodontic treatment should leave the patient with both excellent function and a pleasing look.
A common orthodontic problem to treat is protrusion of the upper front teeth ahead of the lower front teeth. Quite often this problem is due to the lower jaw being shorter than the upper jaw. While the upper and lower jaws are still growing, orthodontic appliances can be used to help the growth of the lower jaw catch up to the growth of the upper jaw. Abnormal swallowing may be eliminated. A severe jaw length discrepancy, which can be treated quite well in a growing child, might very well require corrective surgery if left untreated until a period of slow or no jaw growth. Children who may have problems with the width or length of their jaws should be evaluated for treatment no later than age 10 for girls and age 12 for boys. The AAO recommends that all children have an orthodontic screening no later than age 7 as growth-related problems may be identified at this time.
Correcting jaw-growth problems is done by the process of dentofacial orthopedics. Some of the more common orthopedic appliances used by orthodontists today that help the length of the upper and lower jaws become more compatible include:
Headgear: This appliance applies pressure to the upper teeth and upper jaw to guide the rate and direction of the upper jaw growth and upper tooth eruption. The headgear may be removed by the patient and is usually worn 10 to 12 hours per day.
Forsus Appliance: The Forsus appliance consists of springs that connect the upper molars to the lower canines and may not be removed by the patient. By putting pressure on the lower and upper jaws, it can help influence jaw growth and tooth positions. The Forsus works on correcting your bite around the clock and can help correct severe protrusion of the upper teeth.
Palatal Expansion Appliance: A child’s upper jaw may also be too narrow for the upper teeth to fit properly with the lower teeth (a cross-bite). When this occurs, a palatal expansion appliance can be fixed to the upper back teeth. This appliance can markedly expand the width of the upper jaw and also push the molars back into a better biting position.
The decision about when and which of these or other appliances to use for orthopedic correction is based on each individual patient’s problem. Usually one of several appliances can be used effectively to treat a given problem. Patient cooperation and the experience of the treating orthodontist are critical elements in success of dentofacial orthopedic treatment.
When permanent teeth are lost, it is common for the remaining teeth to drift, tip or shift. This movement can create a poor bite and uneven spacing that cannot be restored properly unless the missing teeth are replaced. Tipped teeth usually need to be straightened so they can stand up to normal biting pressures in the future.