A healthy, functional and attractive smile requires teeth that are straight and jaws that are well aligned. The goal of orthodontic treatment is to correct the cosmetic and functional problems associated with teeth that are either overcrowded, have spaces between them, or that have shifted over time due to extractions, habits, or abnormal bite patterns. Orthodontics can also address skeletal discrepancies between the upper and lower jaws.
Orthodontic treatment can range from the minor movement of a few teeth to the alignment of an entire bite. It may also be used in some cases to align teeth both before and after the surgical correction of severe jaw discrepancies.
Orthodontics utilizes the principles of physics to slowly move teeth into their proper positions. This is performed by using a selection of corrective appliances, including braces, clear aligners, and retainers. Designed to apply incremental and controlled forces to move the teeth in the desired direction, these appliances are adjusted on a regular basis throughout the course of care. Once a malocclusion is corrected and the teeth are completely aligned, retainers are often placed to help ensure that the result remains stable.
Orthodontic treatment time depends on the patient's age, the severity of the malocclusion and the unique needs of each particular case. Some corrections can be accomplished in a few months while others can take a few years. However, for many malocclusions the average length of orthodontic treatment time is 18 months.
Most parents wonder when is the best time to have their child evaluated for braces. One common misconception regarding orthodontic treatment is to wait until all of your child's permanent teeth (except the wisdom teeth) are present. However, an orthodontist can identify most problems involving the alignment of the teeth and jaw growth by the time a child is in the first or second grade. For this reason, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children have a check up with an orthodontic specialist no later than age 7.
It is important to keep in mind that aligning the teeth and the jaws does not happen overnight. Whether you are wearing conventional braces, clear aligners, or any other type of appliance, orthodontic movement is a gradual process. Orthodontic tooth movement is based on the use of light and continuous forces to correct your bite in an incremental, predictable, and healthy manner.
The total duration of orthodontic care, not including wearing retainers to maintain the result, depends on several factors. Such things as growth, as well as compliance with care, may influence treatment time. On average comprehensive orthodontic care to correct a malocclusion can take anywhere between 18-36 months. Orthodontic treatment for more limited problems with tooth alignment typically ranges from 6 to 18 months.
Because orthodontic movement takes time, most appointments after the initial placement of appliances are scheduled approximately four to eight weeks apart. This interval gives your teeth time to move at both a steady and healthy pace. However, there may be situations where more frequent visits to evaluate the status of your case, tooth movement, or to have an additional adjustment are required.
Teeth can be moved at any age. Orthodontic treatment as an adult can completely transform an imperfect and poorly aligned smile into one that is attractive and functions at its best. However, initiating orthodontic care and achieving a successful outcome relies on the presence of healthy teeth and supporting bone. For these reasons, it is essential for adult patients to address any outstanding dental problems before their appliances are placed and to remain diligent about maintaining their oral health throughout care.