Orthodontia elicits a fairly common image of dental braces, featuring metal brackets many kids know all too well. But there's more to the science than that. Dentists often recommend other functional appliances as part of your child's larger orthodontic treatment.
Functional orthodontic appliances change the way a child's mouth "works," correcting bone problems to achieve the effect you want, according to Dr. Farid Shodjahee. Headgear, for example, guides jaw growth in the proper direction as a child develops, by holding back the upper jaw until the lower jaw catches up with it. It is often used with dental braces to straighten the teeth while correcting the bite.
Other items that fall into this category are lesser known than conventional braces and retainers. Here are a few that you may not have heard of:
The Nance 'Button'
The Nance "button" is a holding arch used to maintain space in the mouth, according to Leonard Orthodontics. If your child loses his baby teeth prematurely, the first molars that erupt might move forward because there's nothing to hold them back. The Nance is a partial acrylic plate (the button) that covers a section of the palate. It has two metal bands around the back teeth to hold them in position until the other teeth erupt. It's recommended for children who have lost their baby teeth and are awaiting their permanent teeth, or to push back their front teeth after the back teeth have been driven into position.
- Pros: The Nance can be fixed or removable. Removable Nances can be taken out during sports or leisure activities, whereas the fixed version is cemented to the molars. It is also invisible, so unless it's used in conjunction with other treatments, nobody knows it's there.
- Cons: Oral hygiene is crucial for your child while wearing the Nance; bacteria and food can accumulate between the palate and the appliance, causing irritation of the soft palate tissue. The appliance can also become embedded in the soft tissue if it's not properly maintained or if it becomes warped, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Lower Lingual Holding Arch
This holding arch does the same for the lower teeth as the Nance does for the upper jaw: It prevents the back teeth from moving forward, according to Cupertino Orthocare. It has two metal bands cemented to the two lower molars, which are joined by a U-shaped bar resting behind the lower teeth. The item holds the first molars back to reserve space for the rest of the permanent teeth to erupt in their correct positions, and is fitted in children who lose their baby teeth early.
- Pros: It's invisible, apart from the bands around the lower back teeth, and dental hygiene is fairly simple because no section of the soft tissue is covered by the appliance.
- Cons: The arch can cause mild irritation and discomfort at first, but rinsing with an alcohol-free, pain-relief product such as Colgate® Peroxyl® Mouth Sore Rinse generally does the trick.
These functional orthodontic appliances correct major overjets in a year or less, according to Invisible Orthodontics. An overjet is misalignment in the jaw, which causes your child's top teeth to stick out in front of the lower teeth further than normal. Two "twin" blocks consist in a plate on the upper and one on the lower teeth, both of which work to bring your child's lower jaw forward into the correct position. These are usually followed by full orthodontic treatment to straighten the teeth once the patient's jaw is aligned. The item is best fitted when a child's bones are still growing.
- Pros: Twin blocks are one of the fastest-working functional appliances, and deliver results in a very short amount of time. They're completely removable, and produce noticeable results while allowing the wearer to speak normally during treatment.
- Cons: These need to be fitted at exactly the right time, so early screening is vital to get the timing right.
If your child's dentist suggests orthodontia, feel free to ask about these items. They may not be the most popular appliances, but they can get big jobs done correctly.