What Is Orthodontics?

If you're feeling self-conscious and concerned about crooked or protruding teeth, you're not alone. Not everyone has naturally perfect alignment, but thanks to orthodontics, you can have just that. What is orthodontics, you ask? Here's a full definition that just might have you rethinking your smile.

Branch of Specialized Dentistry

Although Ancient Egyptians and Greeks made primitive attempts to straighten their teeth, orthodontics wasn't a dental specialty until 1901 – when the first school of orthodontics was opened, according to Acceledent.

The American Academy of Orthodontics (AAO) describes orthodontia as an area of dentistry that prevents, diagnoses and treats dental and facial irregularities. If you need orthodontic treatment, your family dentist will usually refer you to an orthodontist. These dental specialists study two to three additional years in the area of orthodontics, during which time they learn how to safely move teeth into proper alignment, guide facial development and ensure healthy growth in the jaw.

Types of Orthodontic Problems

Orthodontic misalignments, called malocclusions, can indicate a number of different conditions. Inherited malocclusions include jaw growth problems, congenitally missing teeth, extra teeth, crowded or protruded teeth and spacing problems. However, the premature loss of baby teeth, retention of baby teeth, thumb- or finger-sucking, accidents and certain types of dental disease can also result in a need for orthodontic treatment.

Importance of Orthodontic Treatment

Correcting orthodontic problems is not just about cosmetics and improving self-confidence; there are very important dental health reasons as well. Malocclusions can cause difficulty in chewing and speaking, according to the AAO, while wearing away enamel on healthy teeth and putting excess stress on your gum tissue and surrounding bone. In addition, teeth that are crooked or overlapping are difficult to clean, which can put you at risk for tooth decay and gum disease.

New Age of Orthodontic Appliances

Parents aren't just opting for treatment for their children today; they're also seeing the benefits of orthodontic treatment for themselves. An added incentive for the working adult is that orthodontic appliances are more inconspicuous today than they have been in the past. The length of treatment is generally shorter, as well.

Metal braces made of stainless steel are still common, but the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) emphasizes a wide variety of other materials that are equally effective in moving teeth. Clear ceramic braces worn on the front teeth are much less visible than metal, for example, although they may not be as sturdy. Completely hidden from view are lingual braces, which attach to the back of the teeth. You even have the option of clear, removable braces you take out when eating and cleaning your teeth.

Oral Hygiene and Orthodontic Treatment

When investing time and resources into orthodontic treatment, you want the best possible outcome, and good oral hygiene is key. Food and bacterial plaque can accumulate around the braces, and brushing and flossing can be more challenging during this process. If you don't clean your teeth thoroughly, however, you can end up with decay, gum disease or permanent areas of discoloration. Here are some oral hygiene guidelines recommended by the AAO.

  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after every meal and snack and before bed. When away from home, be sure to pack a travel toothbrush (the Colgate® Wisp® is portable and requires no toothpaste).
  • Floss at least once a day. Now that this is more difficult, ask your orthodontist about special flossing tools that can make the job easier, and ask for a demonstration.
  • Visit your family dentist for regular checkups and cleanings.
  • Ask your dentist or orthodontist about using a prescription rinse that could help prevent decalcification.

So, what is orthodontics? Now that you know, think about what orthodontics can do for you. You just might end up with the smile people can't stop talking about, and healthy teeth that last a lifetime.

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