What is orthodontics?

Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that specializes in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. The technical term for these problems is "malocclusion," which means "bad bite." The practice of orthodontics requires professional skill in the design, application and control of corrective appliances, such as braces, to bring teeth, lips and jaws into proper alignment and a goal to achieve occlusal “bite” harmony and facial balance.

Who is an orthodontist?

All orthodontists are dentists, but only approximately 6 percent of dentists are orthodontists. An orthodontist is a specialist in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. Orthodontists must first attend college, and then complete a four-year dental graduate program at a university dental school or other institution accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association (ADA). They must then successfully complete an additional two- to three-year residency program of advanced education in orthodontics. This residency program must also be accredited by the ADA. Through this training, the orthodontist learns the skills required to manage tooth movement (orthodontics) and guide facial development (dentofacial orthopedics). Only dentists who have successfully completed this advanced specialty education may call themselves orthodontists.

The American Dental Association has recognized that "specialists are necessary to protect the public, nurture the art and science of dentistry, and improve the quality of care."

Why is orthodontics important?

More than 5 million people in the United States and Canada are in the care of an orthodontist and looking forward to a beautiful, healthy smile that's good for life. The obvious potential reward is straighter teeth that are less prone to decay and injury. But just as important is the boost to self-confidence that a better smile can provide.

Orthodontics can boost a person's self-image as the teeth, jaws and lips become properly aligned, but an attractive smile is just one of the benefits. Alleviating or preventing physical health problems is just as important!

Crooked and crowded teeth are hard to clean and maintain. This may contribute to conditions that cause not only tooth decay but also, eventual gum disease and tooth loss. Other orthodontic problems can contribute to abnormal wear of tooth surfaces, inefficient chewing function, excessive stress on gum tissue and the bone that supports the teeth, or misalignment of the jaw joints, which can result in chronic headaches or pain in the face or neck.

Without treatment, orthodontic problems may possibly lead to tooth decay, gum disease, bone destruction and chewing and digestive difficulties. A "bad bite" can contribute to speech impairments, tooth loss, chipped teeth and other dental injuries. When left untreated, many orthodontic problems can become worse. Treatment by an orthodontic specialist to correct the original problem is often less costly than the additional dental care required to treat more serious problems that may possibly develop in later years.

The value of an attractive smile should not be underestimated. A pleasing appearance is a vital asset to one’s self-confidence. A person's self-esteem often improves as treatment brings teeth, lips and face into proportion. In this way, orthodontic treatment can benefit social and career success, as well as improve one’s general attitude toward life and also, improve the quality of life!

What causes orthodontic problems or malocclusions (“bad bite”)?

Most malocclusions are inherited, but some are acquired.

Inherited problems include crowding of teeth, too much space between teeth, extra or missing teeth, and a wide variety of other irregularities of the jaws, teeth and face.

Acquired malocclusions can be caused by trauma (accidents), thumb, finger or pacifier sucking, airway obstruction by enlarged tonsils and adenoids, dental disease or premature loss of primary (baby) or permanent teeth.

Whether inherited or acquired, many of these problems affect not only alignment of the teeth but also facial development and appearance as well.

Proper diagnosis involves taking a thorough history, photographs, x-rays, and dental impressions (“molds”), which enable Dr. Patel to make informative decisions about the form of treatment that may be necessary.

Orthodontic treatment typically lasts from 6 to 36 months, with the average being about 26 months, depending on age, and the severity of the orthodontic problem. Treatment time may be longer in some individuals. Outstanding results are also dependent on maximizing the coordination of care between you and our practice. We are committed to providing the very best in Orthodontic Care in a safe and most efficient manner and help you achieve your orthodontic treatment objectives.

When should my child first see an orthodontist?

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that every child should get a check-up with an orthodontic specialist no later than age 7.

Some orthodontic problems are easier to correct if detected early rather than waiting until jaw growth has slowed. Early treatment may sometimes help a patient avoid jaw surgery or other serious corrections later in life.

What about the treatment timing?

Dr. Patel provides orthodontic treatment for adults, adolescents and children. We follow the guidelines established by the American Association of Orthodontists by recommending that an orthodontic evaluation take place at age seven for all children. This early evaluation can help to determine the best time to begin any necessary treatment.

Many progressive treatments are now available for patients seven to eleven years of age that provide significant benefits, especially when jaw irregularities are present. These treatments may also prevent certain conditions from worsening. Treating children with these types of problems during their growth stages allows Dr. Patel, to achieve results that may not be possible when face and jaw bones have fully developed. This early treatment may simplify or minimize the need for additional or extended treatment for the child at a later age.

At what age can people have orthodontic treatment?

Children and adults can both benefit from orthodontics, because healthy teeth can be moved at almost any age. Because monitoring growth and development is crucial to managing some orthodontic problems well, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children have an orthodontic screening no later than age 7. Some orthodontic problems may be easier to correct if treated early. Waiting until all the permanent teeth have come in, or until facial growth is nearly complete, may make correction of some jaw discrepancy problems more difficult. An orthodontic evaluation at any age is advisable if a parent, family dentist or the patient’s physician has noted a particular problem.

Is it ever too late for a person to get braces?

No. Because healthy teeth can be moved at any age, an orthodontist can improve the smile of practically anyone - in fact, orthodontists regularly treat patients in their 50s, 60s and even older!

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