Definitions of Orthodontic Terms

Here are definitions of some of the most common orthodontic terms.

Impressions: A mold of your teeth which is used to make a model of them

Panoramic x-ray: An x-ray made by a machine that rotates around your head to give a full picture of your teeth and jaws

Closed bite: Where the upper teeth cover the lower teeth on biting down

Crossbite: Where some upper teeth are inside the lower teeth on biting down

Crowding: Too many teeth in too small a space

Fixed Appliance: Cemented or bonded to the teeth

Lingual Appliances: Fixed to the inside of the teeth

Malocclusion: Poor positioning of your teeth

Class I: Bite is fine as top teeth line up with bottom teeth but teeth are crooked or crowded

Class II: Upper teeth stick out past lower teeth (also called an “overbite”)

Class III: Lower teeth stick out past upper teeth (also called an “underbite”)

Occlusion: The alignment and spacing of upper and lower teeth on biting down

Open Bite: Teeth do not close or come together in the front of your mouth

Proper Occlusion: All teeth are straight and top teeth line up with bottom teeth

Wax Bite: Bitemark left on wax to measure how well teeth are aligned

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Definitions of Parts of Your Braces

Here are definitions of some of the key terms used for the different elements of braces.

Appliance: Something attached to teeth to move them or change the shape of the jaw

Arch Wire: Metal wire which is attached to brackets to move teeth

Band: Metal ring placed on teeth to hold on parts of braces

Bracket: Device glued on to teeth to fasten the arch wire

Orthodontic Chain: Used to hold archwires into brackets and to move teeth

Ligating Module: Small plastic donut-shaped device to hold the arch wires in the brackets

Lingual Appliances: Orthodontic devices fixed to inside of teeth

Mouthguard: Protects your mouth from injury during sports and other activities to limit injuries

Retainer: Device usually worn for some time after braces removed to hold teeth in position

Wax: Helps stop braces from irritating your lips especially in early stages

What is Orthodontics?

Orthodontics is a special branch of dentistry that focuses on the treatment of teeth and jaws that are misaligned.

The word comes from the Greek words orthos meaning straight or proper, and odont meaning tooth.

It is concerned with the treatment of malocclusions or improper bites. These may arise from tooth irregularity, problems with the jaw or both.

You may seek orthodontic treatment for cosmetic reasons or for health reasons.

Cosmetic reasons are usually due to feeling low self esteem due to the appearance of your mouth or smile.

However more serious heath problems can include difficulties chewing, which can lead to digestion problems.

Issues with the alignment of your teeth and jaws can also cause sleep and breathing problems such as snoring or sleep apnea.

In addition, some orthodontists work on reconstructing the entire face rather than focusing exclusively on teeth.

Orthodontic treatment will depend on the diagnosis of the orthodontist after taking x-rays and molds.

The treatment may include braces or other devices to realign teeth. In sever cases, surgery may be needed.

Some estimates say that more than half the US population has problems with misaligned teeth or jaws so orthodontics plays an important role.

How Dental Braces Work

Dental braces are orthodontic devices which help realign the position of your teeth.

They may be used if you have bite problems (also called malocclusions), crooked teeth, gaps or other problems with your teeth.

Although they are mainly used on children and teenagers – as treatment is easier when you are still growing – adults can also benefit from braces.

Braces are made up of three basic parts:
– Brackets
– Bonding (or band)
– Arch wire

The way braces work is that the teeth are moved through the use of force – the wires in the braces push the tooth in the desired direction.

When this happens, there is a biological response which leads to bone remodeling. Bone is created on one side and resorbed on the other side.

A tooth will usually move about a millimeter per month during orthodontic treatment but there are big variations depending on the individual and the exact treatment.

The Pros and Cons of Invisalign Braces

Invisalign braces have become popular as an alternative to traditional braces as they are cosmetically more appealing.

They are known as “invisible braces” but they actually work in a very different way to the traditional approach.

Rather than using brackets and wires, Invisalign uses aligners to move your teeth into new positions.

These aligners are clear and removable.

In order to use the Invisalign approach, you will have X-rays and molds taken which are then used to help an orthodontist plan your treatment.

The Invisalign aligners are built specifically for your mouth and each aligner is meant to be worn for two weeks. You then move on to the next aligner and the whole process can take about one year.

Pros
Virtually invisible so only you know you are wearing them

Easier to clean than traditional braces

More comfortable than traditional braces so less risk of irritation

Removable so can be taken out for eating or just for a break

Cons
Can be more expensive than traditional braces

Won’t work for everybody

Must follow instructions exactly

Teeth are still being moved so some chance of pain

A Quick History of Orthodontics

While you may think braces are a modern invention, the fact is people have been using devices to move their teeth since the early days.

Archaeologists have discovered mummified remains where there were metal bands wrapped around individual teeth.

As far back as 500 BC, Hippocrates and Aristotle were both talking about ways to straighten teeth and fix various dental conditions.

However, despite all the evidence from early times, it was around the 1700s before the most significant developments began to happen in orthodontics.

In 1728, French Dentist Pierre Fauchard published a book called the “The Surgeon Dentist” with an entire chapter on ways to straighten teeth. He used a horseshoe-shaped metal device to help expand the arch.

While teeth straightening has been practiced since early times, orthodontics did not really begin as a science in its own right until the mid-1800s.

Norman W. Kingsley wrote the first article on orthodontics in 1858 and J. N. Farrar was the first dentist to suggest the use of mild force at timed intervals to move teeth.

In the early 1900s, Edward H. Angle devised the first simple classification system for malocclusions, which is still used today as a way for dentists to describe how teeth fit together.

In the early 20th century, gold, platinum and silver were routinely used in braces and the bands wrapped entirely around the each tooth. They continued to wrap around the teeth until the mid 1970s, when direct bonding became possible.

In the 1070s, systems were developed to place braces on the inside surfaces of the teeth – lingual or invisible braces.

In the future, it seems likely that braces will be smaller, less visible, more comfortable and will be needed for much shorter periods of time.

Common Questions About Braces

Here are the answers to some common questions about what it like to have braces

What is it like having braces?,
When you have braces, you will probably find your mouth sore for a few days. It can also be uncomfortable when the braces are tightened. However, most of the time you probably won’t even notice them.

Do braces hurt?
It can depend on which type you choose but usually modern braces will not hurt except for the first few days or when they are tightened.

While the manufacturers are always looking for ways to make them more comfortable, a little discomfort at the beginning is still common. You will be able to take some painkillers if necessary. The pain may be greater if you start orthodontic treatment when you are an adult.

Will it be embarrassing to wear braces?
Over 70% of teenagers wear braces and therefore most people have some experience of them so there is no need to feel embarrassed. If you start treatment when you are an adult, the proportion of people wearing braces is lower but you will still find most people supportive.

Will braces cause sores in my mouth?
Sometimes you might experience sores on your lips in the first few days. These can easily be rinsed in water or special solution and will usually heal within a week or so. You can also put wax on the braces to prevent the braces from rubbing and irritating the sore.

How long does orthodontic treatment take?
It varies a lot depending on exactly what changes need to happen in your mouth. When started young it may last a few months. From the age of 12, it can take a year or two and perhaps more for adults. However it depends very much on your personal situation and your orthodontists will be able to advise you.

What are Braces and How do They Work?

Braces are devices which are used to straighten teeth, correct bite problems and fix irregular teeth.

They are made of three basic parts:
– Brackets
– Bonding (or band)
– Arch wire

The bonding is used to fix the brackets to the teeth.

The arch wire goes through the brackets and is held in place with small rubber bands.

The brackets and arch wire work together to move the teeth into new positions to straighten the teeth.

The arch wire works by putting pressure on the brackets to help move the teeth into the desired new position.

When pressure is applied to your teeth like this, they loosen slightly from the gums. Bone grows in to support the tooth in its new position but this takes time so the process needs to be done slowly.

That’s why you may have to wear braces for about two years and adjustments are only made every few weeks.

The arch wires work because they want to keep their original shape and will exert a great deal of pressure to do this. It is the combination of this aim of the arch wire and the person’s body heat that puts pressure on the teeth.

Braces are not always enough on their own to complete the task so the orthodontist may also use rubber bands or other devices to help pull the teeth in the correct direction.

After you have finished with the braces, you may need to wear a Retainer for a few months to hold the teeth in position until the bone has fully grown into place.

Overcoming Problems with Braces

Most people get used to braces quickly and wear them for as long as they need to with no problems.

However, occasional problems can arise and taking the right steps enables you to resolve them quickly.

Here are some examples of problems that may arise.

Allergic Reaction: Some people can have an allergic reaction to the elastic or the metal used in braces. Alternative materials can normally be used so it is important to let your orthodontist know of any allergies.

Mouth Sores: There may be irritation due to some parts of the braces. This is more commons in the early stages but there are many products available such as oral rinses and dental wax that help heal sores quickly.

Build Up of Plaque: It is important to keep up your regular oral care routine of brushing and flossing to prevent food building up around braces as this can lead to build up of plaque which can cause tooth decay and bad breath.

Damaged Braces: Braces can be damaged if not cared for properly. Certain hard or sticky foods can cause damage as can mouth injuries when playing sports. If damage occurs frequently, it can mean the treatment takes longer.

Arch Wire Movement: If the arch wire becomes displaced, it can cause irritation and mouth ulcers. Dental wax helps but it is usually best to have the damage fixed by an orthodontist.

Discomfort: Pain and discomfort may occur after first installation and also after any adjustments but these usually pass quickly.

Adult Braces and Self esteem

A lot of effort is made to help teenagers feel better about having braces.

However as around 70% of teenagers need braces, it’s a very common experience.

Yet adults can also need braces and it is less common amongst their peers so adults often have more issues about what other people think of them when they go to work and to social events with braces.

Feedback suggests many men feel a bit geeky with braces while women often feel unattractive.

Of course, some adults don’t care what other people think but many do.

The fact is the braces may seem like a big deal for you, especially at first because they are in your mouth. However, most other people barely notice or may just mention it in passing.

Many adults wore braces as kids or have kids who are in braces.

They are likely to be sympathetic and may even admire you for taking action to improve your appearance.

Several high profile actors and musicians have also worn braces as adults and this makes it much easier.

Of course, you may need to be prepared to answer questions – especially when some people meet you for the first time. So you may need a plan for dealing with certain events such as important business meetings.