Orthodontics is a dental specialty focused on aligning your bite and straightening your teeth. You might need to see an orthodontist if you have crooked, overlapped, twisted or gapped teeth. Common orthodontic treatments include traditional braces, clear aligners and removable retainers.
Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that focuses on diagnosing and treating “bad bites” (malocclusion). Common orthodontic treatments include braces, clear aligners and retainers.
The way your teeth fit together has a significant impact on your oral health. By improving the way your upper and lower teeth meet, you can reduce your risk for a host of oral health issues, including cavities, gum disease and excessive wear (erosion).
In most cases, orthodontists perform this type of treatment. An orthodontist is a doctor who receives two to three years of additional training after graduating from dental school. They focus on improving your bite. They don’t perform general dentistry treatments like fillings, crowns or bridges.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, children should have their first orthodontic visit no later than the age of 7. While many children won’t need treatment at this age, it’s a good time to find out if there are any issues to watch out for. Often, children who need early orthodontic treatment can reduce their need for extensive dental procedures in the future.
Almost everyone can gain some benefit from orthodontics. But some people need treatment more than others. Many people seek orthodontic treatment because they want to improve the appearance of their smile. But in addition to cosmetic benefits, orthodontics offers improved chewing function and better oral health.
Types of orthodontic problems include:
To qualify for orthodontic treatment, you shouldn’t have any serious dental issues like extensive decay or gum disease. Placing braces on diseased teeth can have a serious negative impact on your oral health.
If you have cavities or gum disease, see a dentist for treatment. Once you manage those conditions, ask your dentist if orthodontic treatment is right for you.
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There are several treatments that fall under the specialty of orthodontics. Some of the most common include:
Braces gradually shift your teeth into their desired positions over time using a combination of brackets, bands and wires. There are different types of braces depending on your needs, including traditional metal braces and clear (ceramic) braces.
Clear orthodontic aligners are a popular alternative to braces. Well-known brands include Invisalign® and ClearCorrect®. Rather than using brackets and wires to straighten your teeth, these systems use a series of custom-made, clear aligner trays. You wear each set of trays for one to two weeks before switching them out for the next set in the series. Over time, the clear aligners shift your teeth into their proper positions.
If you wear braces or clear aligners, you’ll need a retainer once your orthodontic treatment ends. A retainer is a custom oral appliance that keeps your teeth from drifting out of their proper positions. Your orthodontist can tell you how often you’ll need to wear your retainer to maintain the results of treatment.
Orthodontists recommend some treatments during childhood. This is because a child’s facial bones are still developing and they’re much easier to move and manipulate. A palate (palatal) expander helps to widen a child’s upper jaw. Most children don’t need palate expanders. But under the right circumstances, these devices can create extra space without the need for tooth extractions or other procedures.
The cosmetic benefits of orthodontics are clear. But these treatments offer functional and health-related advantages as well:
The main disadvantage is short-term: You’ll have to follow treatment guidelines closely and be patient until you reach your goal. For some people, orthodontic treatment takes less than one year. For others, it can take up to two years or longer. Because every person has their own unique needs, treatment times look different for everyone. Ask your orthodontist what to expect.
If you don’t clean thoroughly around your orthodontic appliances, you also have a greater risk of cavities. Be sure to follow your orthodontist’s oral hygiene recommendations.
If you wear your retainer as directed, your results should last the rest of your life. However, if you stop wearing your retainer, your teeth could drift back into their old positions over time.
Schedule an appointment with an orthodontist any time you’re concerned about the appearance, health or function of your teeth. Many orthodontists will see you without a referral. But your dentist can recommend an orthodontist, too.
If you think your child may need to see an orthodontist, ask your dentist for recommendations. Orthodontists generally see children as young as 7.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Many people consider orthodontics when they want to improve the appearance of their smile. But orthodontic treatment can also improve oral health and function. Orthodontists offer a wide range of treatments based on your needs. To learn more, talk to your dentist or schedule an appointment with an orthodontist.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/12/2022.
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