An orthodontist is a dental consultant / specialist who has completed 2-3 years of orthodontics training in addition to the standard four years of dental school. This gives the orthodontist special skills to treat misalignment of teeth and facial development with braces and other methods.

This article on orthodontists and orthodontic treatment is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

Orthodontic treatment is a way of straightening or moving teeth in order to improve appearance and functionality. It’s also beneficial to the long-term health of the teeth, gums, and jaw joints, by spreading the biting pressure more evenly over the teeth.

Why should I see an orthodontist?

It is quite normal to have crowded or crooked teeth. An orthodontist will straighten them or move them into a better position. Afterwards, you will notice they bite together more efficiently and are easier to clean.

Sometimes the upper front teeth can stick out, making them more likely to be damaged, or the lower jaw may be poorly positioned leading to an incorrect bite. An orthodontist can correct both of these conditions.

It is important that the teeth meet together correctly otherwise unnecessary strain is put on the muscles of the jaw, which can cause jaw and joint problems, and in some cases headaches as well. Orthodontic treatment relieves this stress.

What is the procedure?

A dentist may perform the orthodontic treatment or you may be sent to a specialist orthodontist operating either in a dental practice or a hospital. Orthodontists can carry out treatment on adults or children, as long as all permanent teeth have come through.

A full examination of your teeth will be carried out. Besides looking at your teeth, the orthodontist may take x-rays and make plaster models of the shape of your teeth. Then they will explain what treatments are possible. Some common orthodontic treatments include:

Removing teeth – to make space in the mouth where the teeth are overcrowded.

Fixed appliances – are metal, plastic, or ceramic braces. They involve having brackets and bands temporarily stuck to the teeth, with a flexible wire joining all the brackets allowing the teeth to be moved. Some braces are all but invisible.

Removable appliances – are plates that can be taken out for cleaning. They have delicate wires and springs attached, which move the teeth using gentle pressure. Invisible braces are clear plastic moulds that are worn for 23 hours each day, but can be removed for eating and brushing.

Functional appliances – change the way the jaws grow. They use the power of your jaw muscles and are used to treat specific problems such as an underbite, where the lower front teeth jut out further than the upper teeth.

The length of time you must wear the appliance depends on how severe the problem is to start with. It can vary from a few months to a few years, although most people can be treated in 1-2 years.

You will probably need to visit your orthodontist every 4-6 weeks to have your appliance adjusted. The appliance will feel strange to begin with and you may have some discomfort at first. If this doesn’t go away, your orthodontist can make more adjustments to ease the pressure.

Results of the treatment

When the orthodontic treatment is complete the teeth need to be held in position for a while by a special appliance known as a retainer. This holds the newly straightened teeth in position while the surrounding gum and bone settles. It can be removable or fixed, depending on the original problem.

The success of the treatment depends on the skill of the orthodontist / dental consultant and your commitment. You must attend regular check-ups as required and carry out the instructions given by the orthodontist. After retention, it is usual for minor tooth movements to occur over the years but is not usually enough to require further treatment.

Be aware that orthodontic treatment may damage your teeth if they are not properly looked after. Appliances themselves cannot cause damage, but poor cleaning and too many sugary drinks and snacks can cause permanent damage. Brackets, wires, and braces can trap food easily and cause more plaque to build up than normal. You must, therefore, pay extra attention to cleaning your teeth and appliance regularly.

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