Maybe you had braces as a child, or you are thinking of having your own (it's never too late) or your child's teeth straightened through orthodontia. But how much do you really know about this branch of dentistry? Here are six questions people often ask about orthodontia.
Q. How did the word “orthodontia” originate?
A. From Latin roots meaning “straight” and “teeth”
Q. Teeth are anchored in bone. How is it possible to move them?
A. Living bone is not unchanging. The bone, ligament, and the outer layer of a tooth's root (called cementum) react to the stresses of biting and chewing. Due to this stimulation the bone is constantly being resorbed (broken down) and rebuilt as it is pushed from one side of a tooth and pulled from the other. Under normal conditions, there is a balance resulting in a steady state. Orthodontia takes advantage of this process to slowly change the teeth's position in the desired way.
Q. My dentist talks about the periodontal ligament. What does this mean?
A. The ligament is a fibrous tissue that connects the teeth to their bone and takes part in the dynamic process of resorption and rebuilding of the bone.
Q. What kinds of conditions can orthodontia correct?
A. Treatment can improve the teeth's position and relations to each other (being too crowded or badly spaced) and the way the upper and lower jaws relate. It can enhance the appearance of a person's teeth and face, and can also improve the teeth's function in biting and chewing.
Q. What is the best first step to orthodontic treatment?
A. Talk to your general dentist about your concerns. If you are referred to an orthodontist, the next step is to assess your situation using molds of your teeth that show the way the upper and lower teeth meet (your bite). Special x-rays will be taken to show the locations of your teeth and relation of your upper and lower jaw. Your dental team may also use photographs of your smile and computer imaging to get a clear view of how your teeth are now and how they may be moved.
Q. What are some of the methods of treatment?
A. In the traditional method, small metal brackets are attached to the crowns of the teeth. Thin wires, called arch wires, are strung through attachments on the brackets. These wires are used to apply controlled force to direct the teeth in the desired direction. Another method is to use removable clear plastic aligners. A series of aligners is designed by a computer, to be changed from one to the next as the positions of the teeth slowly change.