We often associate orthodontics with moving several teeth on the upper or lower arches (or both) with braces or clear aligners. But not all patients require a major endeavor — sometimes only one or a few teeth need to be moved, and not very far.
A slight gap between the two upper front teeth is one type of situation that only requires minor tooth movement: just a few teeth need to be moved and usually just a millimeter or two. The appliances needed to achieve this are also relatively simple in design: removable retainers or small scale fixed braces with small springs or elastics that place pressure against the teeth. The process may also only take a few months rather than two years as with major tooth movement.
Preparing for the procedure, though, must be undertaken with great care. We need to first determine if moving the teeth even slightly could affect the bite with the opposite teeth. We must also ensure the roots of the teeth intended for movement are in good position for allowing the space to be closed.
We must then consider the other supporting structures for the teeth. It’s important for gums and bone to be healthy — if not, treating any found disease may be necessary first before beginning orthodontics. And, if the gap between the two upper teeth was created by an abnormally large frenum, the small strip of tissue connecting the lip to the upper gum, it may be necessary to remove it before tooth movement can begin to ensure the closed gap stays closed.
Like any other orthodontic treatment, minor tooth movement first requires a thorough examination with x-ray imaging to determine the exact tooth position, bite issues and the surrounding gum and bone health. We can then be reasonably certain if this straightforward procedure is right for you, and could help you obtain a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on different orthodontic treatment choices, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Minor Tooth Movement.”
Most of us are quite familiar with what traditional braces look like. But occasionally we see more complex-looking devices being worn by young orthodontic patients: thicker wires that extend outside the mouth, with straps that may go behind the neck or over the chin. What are these devices, and why are they sometimes needed?
In general, orthodontic appliances with external parts braced by the head, neck or chin are referred to as “headgear.” These devices may be used to handle a number of particular orthodontic situations, but they all have one thing in common: They provide the additional anchorage needed to move teeth into better positions.
It may come as a surprise that teeth, which seem so solid, can actually be moved fairly easily over time. This is because teeth are not fixed directly into bone, but are instead held in place by a hammock-like structure called the periodontal ligament. Using a light, controlled force — such as the force of springy wires and elastics in traditional braces — teeth can be moved slowly through the jaw bone, like a stick being pulled through sand.
Of course, to pull a stick through sand, you need a firm anchorage — your legs, for example, bracing against a rock. Most of the time, the back teeth, with their large, multiple roots, provide plenty of support. But sometimes, the back teeth alone aren’t enough to do the job.
If a very large space between teeth is being closed, for example, the back teeth might be pulled forward as the front teeth are pulled back; this could result in poor alignment and bite problems. In other cases, the front teeth may need to be pulled forward instead of back. The back teeth can’t help here; this is a job for headgear.
Some types of headgear have a strap that goes behind the head or neck; they use the entire head as an anchorage. Other types, called “reverse pull” headgear, have a strap that comes over the chin or the forehead; they can pull teeth forward. Headgear can even influence the proper growth of facial structures — that’s why it is usually seen on preteens, whose growth isn’t yet complete.
Headgear is usually worn for 12 hours per day, for a limited period of time. In some cases, rather than headgear, appliances called “temporary anchorage devices” (TADS) may be recommended. These are tiny screws that are implanted into the jawbone in a minimally invasive procedure, and serve a similar function.
While it may not look pretty, orthodontic headgear is capable of moving teeth into their proper positions in a relatively short period of time — and ending up with a great-looking smile is what orthodontics is all about.