Orthodontics is a specialty field in dentistry that involves the diagnosis, prevention, and correction of crooked teeth, jaws, and unfavourable bite patterns. Orthodontic treatment is most known for teeth straightening. Dentists that specialise in this treatment are called orthodontists. Many general dentists also perform orthodontic treatment.
What does orthodontics treat?
- Crooked or crowded teeth.
- Incorrect biting patterns.
- Severe misalignment of teeth and/or jaws.
- Past habits such as thumb sucking that have affected the position of the tooth and development of the jaw bones.
Orthodontic treatment is not just about straight teeth. It can correct a bad biting pattern, help with sleep apnoea, and prevent uneven wear of the teeth.
When to have a consult
Orthodontic treatment can be performed on children, adolescents, and adults.
The Australian Society of Orthodontists’ recommend children have an orthodontic assessment between the ages of 7 – 10. All the adult teeth do not have to be present in the mouth for an assessment to be done. An examination at this age can allow for early intervention treatment should it be needed.
Traditional metal braces have been used for about a hundred years and are still commonly used to straighten teeth. A similar option is ceramic braces which are the same as metal braces but made from white or tooth-coloured ceramic material. They are not completely invisible but are less obvious than metal braces. Another option is lingual braces. These metal braces are stuck to the inside surface of the teeth making them practically invisible.
Clear aligners provide an alternate option for straightening teeth besides traditional braces. Many people will know them by their individual brand name. Clear aligners are custom made thin plastic trays that are worn over the teeth to straighten them. The trays should be worn at all times other than when eating and drinking liquids other than water. Drinking liquids such as fruit juice or soft drink while wearing clear aligners can trap the liquids against the teeth, which can cause damage to the teeth if it happens frequently.
Although the aligners are clear plastic, they are not invisible. Your dentist or orthodontist will advise you if clear aligners are suitable for your individual situation.
A clean aligner tray being removed from the mouth. Getty images.
Direct-to-consumer orthodontic treatment
There are some companies that provide tooth straightening treatments direct to patients without them having to visit a dentist or orthodontist. This treatment is often referred to as do-it-yourself (DIY) or direct to consumer orthodontics.
The Australian Dental Association does not recommend Australians seek DIY orthodontic treatment. These treatments can lead to permanent damage to teeth, gums, and jaw joints. It is recommended that you seek in-person treatment with a dentist or orthodontist that includes a thorough pre-treatment assessment and ongoing supervision.
For the majority of people regular braces prescribed by a registered orthodontist are the safest and most effective way to permanently straighten teeth. If your teeth are only slightly crooked or just a bit crowded, an orthodontist-prescribed retainer may be enough to get them straight. You shouldn’t attempt to straighten your teeth by yourself. Work with an orthodontist to find the right solution for straightening your teeth.
If you are looking for a specialist orthodontist, a search engine by the Australian Society of Orthodontics can be found here.
Brushing and Flossing
Whether or not you are wearing braces, brushing the teeth twice daily is important. Although for people who wear braces, brushing after every meal is recommended as food can get trapped around the brackets. Manual or electric toothbrushes can be used for cleaning around braces.
Brushing teeth with braces
- Remove any rubber bands or removable appliances associated with your orthodontic treatment. These should be rinsed or cleaned before placing them back in your mouth.
- Place a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush.
- Start by brushing at the gum line of your teeth by holding your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums with the brush bristles split evenly over the teeth and gums. Move the toothbrush gently in small circular or back-forward motions.
- Turn the toothbrush to face the bristles downwards to clean the top of the brackets.
- Turn the brush again to clean at an upward angle to along the bottom of your brackets.
- After brushing, spit out the excess toothpaste but do not rinse your mouth with water. This allows the fluoride paste to sit on the teeth for longer, increasing protection.
Interdental cleaning with braces
Cleaning between the teeth with string floss can be tricky while wearing braces but it is still important to clean between the teeth every day. Other options such as floss threaders for braces or interdental brushes can assist with cleaning. Interdental brushes can help to clean between the teeth as well as between the orthodontic brackets.
Cleaning between brackets with an interdental brush. Getty images.