Orthodontics- More Than a Straight Smile


“I would like straighter teeth” ranks among the top reasons why most people come and see me. I see parents coming in for their kids and sometimes, adults coming in, to see if the dream of straight teeth is still possible to accomplish.

Susan* was thirty five and had always wanted straight teeth. Her biggest concerns were that her top front teeth protruded in an unaesthetic manner and her bottom teeth were so misaligned that everyday oral hygiene was such a difficulty and flossing was nearly impossible. Her self-esteem had taken a huge hit. When she first came to my office, she mentioned to one of my assistants that she hadn't been on a date in forever because she had overheard people talking about her teeth and it made her very self-conscious. I sent Susan to the orthodontist for a consultation to see if we could restore her smile and her self-esteem. An orthodontist is a specialist who has received two to three years of specialized training beyond dental school to learn the proper way to align and straighten teeth.

Although it may be possible for an orthodontist to enhance a smile at any age, the American Association of Orthodontists deems that the optimal age for an orthodontic evaluation is age 7. There is a possibility that no treatment may be required at this age, but it is important for this early evaluation, so the orthodontist can keep a vigilant eye on the growth pattern of the teeth and jaw to see when treatment can be started. Early treatment offers timely detection of problems and may ensure optimal and effective treatment and sometimes minimal expense.

Why is the age 7 so important for Orthodontics? The reason behind this is that by this age, the permanent first molars have already erupted, establishing the bite. This allows the orthodontist to check the required space for optimal alignment of the permanent teeth versus the existing space in the jaw at present time and, check front-to-back and side-to-side teeth relationships. If there is a problem, early detection and interceptive orthodontics may be able to prevent the occurrence of a later serious issue.

Misaligned teeth may cause a series of problems for people. The most obvious among these problems is esthetics. A person's smile is the first thing other people notice and can impact first impression tremendously. Among other problems include being unable to perform adequate oral hygiene due to severely crowded or misaligned teeth. This leads to gum disease due to inadequate brushing and flossing. This lack of oral hygiene may also lead to tooth decay. Protruded front teeth may be in the danger of chipping or fracture. Misaligned teeth may lead to jaw joint problems, abnormal wearing of teeth surfaces and may pose difficulty in chewing.

Statistics show that one out every five orthodontic patients is an adult. The orthodontic forces that move teeth in adults are the same that move teeth in children. A person with a healthy mouth may be a good candidate for orthodontics at any age. In order to deem if the gums are healthy and teeth are free of decay, the orthodontist will ask the dentist or the periodontist, the gum specialist, to give a clean bill of oral health. Teeth are best straightened in a mouth free of gum disease and decay to prevent future complications and to ensure optimum care. If there are missing teeth, the orthodontist will work in conjunction with the dentist to decide if a bridge or implant is a possibility after orthodontic treatment is complete. Your dentist will help you to decide when it is the best time to have your wisdom teeth out in order to ensure orthodontic success.

Orthodontics has come a long way and modern orthodontics ensures that patients will be able to maintain their lifestyle and esthetics as best as possible with braces. There are many kinds of orthodontic treatment available and it is best to have an open discussion with your orthodontist as to what is the best treatment for you. So, it may be possible for you to be able to continue singing, playing a musical instrument, take beautiful pictures or dine out with braces.

Sometimes adjunctive treatment, like surgery, maybe required along with orthodontics in order to achieve complete success.

It is important to remember that teeth shift throughout life due to bone remodeling and bite changes. Hence, it is pertinent to discuss with the orthodontist about additional treatment, like retainers, which may be fixed or removable, in order to ensure long term orthodontic stability and success.

I always advise all my patients to follow superlative oral hygiene at home and visit my hygienist regularly for cleaning. It is also imperative to get regular dental checkups to ensure that there are no areas of decay. Discuss fluoride treatments with your dentist. It is important to be more vigilant of your oral hygiene while undergoing orthodontic treatment to ensure that your teeth and gums are always healthy.

Susan underwent orthodontic treatment for over two years. She describes that as life changing. I remember her words after her treatment was over. She was overwhelmed with happiness. She said to me as she hugged me, “a smile is the gateway to the soul, Doc, and today, my soul is smiling a whole lot."

Today Susan is happily married. Her husband finished his orthodontic treatment two years ago and her nine year old is undergoing initial orthodontic treatment. Susan's happy and beautiful bright smile is a success story at many levels.

These are the healthy joys that we live for!

*Name changed to protect privacy


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