Orthodontics is a specialized branch of dentistry focused on preventing and correcting the misalignment of teeth and jaws. While general dentists primarily address cavities and gum disease, orthodontists aim to promote dental health by addressing issues such as improper jaw alignment, crooked teeth, and overcrowding. However, their role goes beyond achieving an attractive, straight smile. Orthodontists also address underlying orthodontic problems that can lead to tooth decay and loss, thus aiding patients in maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
Orthodontic devices like braces function by gradually and consistently shifting teeth into their proper positions. These braces can be made from various materials like metal, ceramic, or plastic, and some options are nearly invisible. Nevertheless, seeking orthodontic treatment is not just about aesthetics; in certain cases, early diagnosis and care from an orthodontist can help prevent more expensive dental procedures later on.
Orthodontic Treatment for Children
While not all children require orthodontic care, it is essential for all children to undergo regular monitoring to detect any potential dental issues at an early stage. Identifying problems early on allows for less invasive treatments.
Typically, children’s first permanent teeth, the first molars, emerge around the age of 6. Therefore, it is generally advisable to begin monitoring their jaw and tooth growth at around age 7. Several signs indicate the need for early orthodontic attention, such as:
- Premature loss of permanent teeth.
- Crowded teeth.
- Gaps between the front teeth.
- Difficulty in chewing or missing teeth.
- Cheek biting or thumb sucking.
- Over or underbite.
- Clenching or grinding of teeth.
Commencing treatment at an early stage enables the orthodontist to guide the jaw and permanent teeth’s growth, preventing or reducing further misalignment or damage. Various treatment methods, including traditional braces, spacers, and lingual braces, can be employed by orthodontists to help children develop with confident and healthy smiles.
Orthodontic Treatment for Adults
Adult orthodontic care can be highly beneficial for individuals who required braces during childhood but did not receive them. By seeking adult orthodontic treatment, they can enhance their oral health, appearance, and self-esteem. Similar orthodontic issues that affect children can also impact adults if left unaddressed. Prolonged misalignment of teeth and jaws over the years can lead to considerable damage to teeth, gums, and jaws.
Untreated orthodontic problems in adults can pose various health risks, including:
- Jaw or facial pain
- Difficulties with chewing, speaking, or biting
- Inability to properly clean teeth, leading to an increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease
- Irregular or severe wearing of tooth enamel
Contrary to common belief, adults often seek orthodontic care to correct teeth misalignment and achieve proper alignment.
While most orthodontic treatment options available to children are also applicable to adults, one limitation for adult patients is that their jaws have stopped growing. Consequently, if an adult’s jaws are significantly misaligned, surgery might be necessary for a comprehensive correction. Additionally, adults seeking orthodontic care often prefer alternatives like Invisalign® which offer less conspicuous appearance and reduced treatment time.