TOOTH TALK: Braces aren't just for kids

Dr. Igor Kaplansky

Braces often seem to be a rite of passage for young children and teens, to ensure a healthy smile and well-aligned teeth. “Metal mouth,” “tin grin” and other unflattering names for heavy metal braces are painful memories for many who wore them. These days, the fixes are colorful and fun for teens and more adults are also turning to their dental team to fix problems to maintain teeth for a lifetime.

If you’re past the adolescent stage and you still have problems with crooked teeth or a malocclusion, it’s not too late. Orthodontic treatment is still effective in adults whose jaws have stopped developing. If you are generally in good dental health, you can have orthodontic treatment at any life stage.

Orthodontics is the formal name of the dental specialty concerned with the diagnosis, prevention, interception, guidance and correction of bad bites. The goal of orthodontic treatment is to create a healthy bite with straight teeth that properly meet opposing teeth in the opposite jaw. A well-aligned bite makes it easier for you to bite, chew and speak.

Orthodontists are specialists who diagnose, prevent and treat dental and facial irregularities to correctly align teeth and jaws. After graduating from dental school the practitioner must complete two to three years of specialized education in an accredited orthodontic residency program. The orthodontist is trained to adopt the latest technology to keep abreast in a rapidly-advancing field.

So, how do you fix a bad bite? Orthodontic practices have evolved considerably over the past 20 years. Back then, tooth extractions were all too frequent and large, traditional one-size-fits-all brackets and wires were the standard of care. These days there are a lot of treatment options, from retainers to clear aligners to invisible, metal, ceramic and micro braces. They each have their uses and orthodontists have the specialized knowledge to consider all possibilities, based on variables like age, possible jaw imbalances, and differences in the size of teeth.

When teeth are crowded, protrude, are spaced too far apart, meet in an abnormal way or don’t meet at all, correction may be recommended. The appliances most commonly used to guide teeth into their proper positions are braces and aligners. They are followed by retainers to preserve and stabilize the results of orthodontic treatment.

Molding smiles doesn’t happen overnight. For this reason, comfortable and effective methods are crucial. Traditional metal braces consist of wire and brackets that attach to each tooth and the wire-and-bracket system very efficiently applies pressure on the teeth over time in order to move them into their ideal positions.

An adult with a few misaligned teeth may feel that they’ve been getting along just fine and having them fixed isn’t worth the effort and expense. Aside from the esthetic benefits, there are other reasons why straightening teeth can be a worthwhile investment, even for an adult. It’s not just the way you smile. Properly aligned teeth are more likely to function as they should. If your teeth aren’t aligned properly, you may still be able to speak, smile, and chew, but you’ll put more stress on both the teeth and the jaws, leading to premature wearing of teeth. Traditional orthodontics focus on realigning your teeth to a more normal position, which reduces your risk of dental erosion and other functional problems.

Seeing your dentist for a consultation is the first step. Getting a clear image of your oral structures is essential to creating a plan of action. Nearly a decade ago Dentistry by Dr. Kaplansky, PLLC was one of the first in New York state to use Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT), a kind of dental CAT scan that produces amazingly accurate 3D images of teeth and jaws with very low radiation exposure. These three-dimensional images of the entire skull, jaw and underlying bone structure provide a much clearer picture of the complete dentition and other structures, and reveal much greater detail about the patient’s symptoms. Better imaging leads to better diagnosis and precision in planning that in turn leads to a better treatment outcome.

Many people choose a product called Invisalign for cosmetic purposes, because the aligners are nearly invisible and are a particularly good option for adults who want to continue to look professional. The aligners are nearly invisible so they’re very discreet, and most people won’t even know you’re wearing them. You wear the aligners throughout the day and while you sleep, but they can be removed for eating and oral hygiene.

Next time, Tooth Talk will explore how these aligners work for adults, as well as comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for juveniles needed orthodontic intervention.

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