dental instruments and oral health

What is an Orthodontist?

Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that specializes in malocclusion treatment, a condition where the teeth are not positioned correctly in the upper and lower jaws. This can result in an improper bite, such as an overbite or underbite. Orthodontists provide fixed and removable appliances that correct an individual’s bite and realign teeth over time. 

Irregular, crowded, and protruding teeth have been an issue for many individuals for hundreds of years. As dentistry progressed into the 21st century, approaches to correcting misaligned and crooked teeth became clearer with advancements in technology. Today, there are many different types of orthodontic treatment available for children and adults, including:

Understanding Malocclusion of Teeth

Malocclusion simply means the misalignment of teeth. The clearest sign of malocclusion is when the teeth are crooked or stick out. Depending on the severity of an individual’s incorrect bite, diastema (gaps in teeth), or misalignment of teeth tips, an orthodontist will recommend the best treatment option during an office visit. There are three different classes of malocclusion, referred to as class I, II, and III:

Normal Occlusion

Normal occlusion (the contact between upper and lower teeth) refers to the “ideal” positioning of teeth, when they are arranged along a perfectly regular line. Having normal occlusion without previous orthodontic treatment is rare.

Class I Malocclusion

The most common type of malocclusion is a class I. It involves some overlap of the upper teeth over the lowers. In a perfect bite, the upper teeth should fit over the lower teeth like a lid on a box. In other words, a class I malocclusion means that the molar relationship is correct, but there is crowding or spacing in the anterior region. 

Class II Malocclusion

A class II malocclusion, or overbite, occurs when the upper teeth and jaw severely overlap the lower teeth and jaw. This form of malocclusion is common, but less common than a class I malocclusion.

Class III Malocclusion

A class III malocclusion, or underbite, occurs when the lower jaw is pushed forward. This type of malocclusion means the lower teeth and jaw overlap the upper teeth and jaw. 

Causes of Malocclusion

Malocclusion is commonly passed down through genetics. Most people aren’t born with normal occlusion and turn to orthodontic treatment for a long-term solution. Crowded teeth, gaps, and an incorrect bite are caused by the difference in teeth and jaw size. This means there may not be enough room for both to grow properly. Other common reasons for malocclusion include:

Malocclusion Treatment Types

Orthodontists specialize in correcting malocclusion related problems using different devices and treatments. Contemporary treatment types include:

  • Diastema Treatment (Closing Gaps in Teeth)
  • Straightening Teeth
  • Incorrect Bite Treatment
  • Speech and Chewing Improvement
  • Aligning Tips of Teeth
  • Improving Gum and Teeth Health

Devices & Procedures

Orthodontic specialists recommend both fixed and removable appliances to improve teeth alignment and fix a patient’s incorrect bite.

Fixed Appliances

Fixed orthodontic appliances are attached to the teeth for short or long periods of time, depending on the severity of a patient’s alignment issues. It is possible to continue eating normally during the time these appliances are attached to the teeth. Although, it is recommended that patients do not ingest foods or drinks that are high in sugar, such as candy and soda. Carbonated drinks, hard candy, and sticky foods are hard to remove from the appliances and can ruin them over time. Types of fixed appliances include:

Braces

Braces are made of individual brackets (attached to each tooth) and threaded metal wires. To hold the appliance together, small rubber bands (ligatures) are wrapped around each bracket. Braces are used to realign teeth, close gaps, and fix an incorrect bite within 18 months to three years. 

Space Maintainers

Space maintainers are often used for children who lose a tooth early or from dental decay. A space maintainer keeps the space open in the gums, allowing the permanent tooth to grow in correctly. There are fixed and removable options available. 

Removable Appliances

Unlike fixed orthodontic appliances, removable appliances aren’t attached to the teeth, meaning the patient can remove them at any time. These appliances must be taken out before eating, flossing, or brushing. Removable appliances are used to correct minorly crooked teeth or prevent children from sucking their thumbs. A few common treatments include:

Clear Aligners

Clear aligners are thin, plastic trays that are formed specifically to a patient’s teeth. Each aligner is worn for up to three weeks, moving teeth a fraction of a millimeter at a time. Instead of wearing braces, many people turn to aligners to fix crooked teeth, especially adults. 

Headgear

Headgear is used to fix a child’s overbite. This appliance moves the jaw and teeth bones back, and in turn, keeps the front teeth from sticking out. The growth of the upper jaw slows down, giving the lower jaw time to catch up. 

Retainers

Retainers keep teeth in place after orthodontic treatment (braces) is complete. Since jawbones are living and changing tissues, retainers are necessary to ensure teeth stay straight. There are also permanent options available. 

TMJ Splints & Jaw Repositioning Appliances

Repositioning the temporomandibular joint, which opens and closes the mouth, incorporates the use of splints (jaw repositioning appliances). They are used to stabilize the relationship between teeth and joints, while also eliminating occlusal interferences. 

Insurance Coverage

Depending on an individual’s insurance plan, some orthodontic treatment may be covered. Insurance carriers, such as Delta Dental and Humana, offer discounts for braces, Invisalign, and retainers depending on the plan you choose. If a patient has orthodontic benefits, then their dental insurance will pay the same amount for Invisalign or other aligner therapy as it would pay for braces. Check with your provider to determine the best options.