Moving your teeth to a more functional and attractive alignment is a big undertaking. You can invest months — even years — and a lot of expense to correct a bad bite. But all that effort could be for nothing if your teeth return to their original positions.
The very aspect of dental physiology that makes orthodontics possible can work against you in reverse. Your teeth are not actually rigidly fixed in the bone: they're held in place by an elastic gum tissue known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and the bone and attaches to both with tiny fibers.
While this mechanism holds the teeth firmly in place, it also allows the teeth to move in response to changes in the mouth. As we age, for example, and the teeth wear, the ligament allows movement of the teeth to accommodate for the loss of tooth surface that might have been created by the wear.
When we employ braces we're changing the mouth environment by applying pressure to the teeth in a certain direction. The teeth move in response to this pressure. But when the pressure is no longer there after removing the braces or other orthodontic devices, the ligament mechanism may then respond with a kind of “muscle memory” to pull the teeth back to where they were before.
To prevent this, we need to help the teeth maintain their new position, at least until they've become firmly set. We do this with an oral appliance known as a retainer. Just as its name implies it helps the teeth “retain” their new position.
We require most patients to initially wear their retainer around the clock. After a while we can scale back to just a few hours a day, usually at nighttime. Younger patients may only need to wear a retainer for eighteen months or so. Adults, though, may need to wear one for much longer or in some cases permanently to maintain their new bite.
Although having to wear a retainer can be tedious at times, it's a crucial part of your orthodontic treatment. By wearing one you'll have a better chance of permanently keeping your new smile.
If you would like more information on caring for your teeth after braces, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Wearing braces takes time, but if all goes well the changes to your smile will be well worth it. In the meantime, though, you’ll have to contend with one particular difficulty—keeping your teeth clean of disease-causing, bacterial plaque.
Don’t worry, though—while keeping dental disease at bay with braces can be challenging, it is doable. Here are 4 tips for minimizing your chances of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease during orthodontic treatment.
Eat less sugar. Like any living organism, bacteria must eat—and they’re especially amenable to sugar. The more they have access to this favorite food source, the more they multiply—and the greater your risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Eating fewer sugary foods and snacks and more dental-friendly ones helps restrict bacteria populations in your mouth.
Brush thoroughly. Brushing with braces can be difficult, especially in areas blocked by orthodontic hardware. You need to be sure you brush all tooth and gum surfaces around your braces, including above and below the wire running through the brackets. A soft multi-tufted microline bristle brush is a good choice for getting into these hard to reach places. Brushing around braces takes more time, but it’s essential for effective plaque removal.
Use flossing tools. Flossing is important for removing plaque from between teeth—but, unfortunately, it might be even more difficult to perform with braces than brushing. If using string floss proves too daunting consider using a floss threader or a similar device that might be easier to maneuver. You can also use a water irrigator, a hand-held device that sprays water under pressure to loosen and flush away between-teeth plaque.
Keep up regular dental visits. While you’re seeing your orthodontist regularly for adjustments, you should also see your general dentist at least every six months or more. Besides dental cleaning, your dentist also monitors for signs of disease and can prescribe preventive measures like antibacterial mouth rinses. Of course, if you see abnormalities, like white spots on your teeth or red, puffy or bleeding gums, contact your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner a problem can be addressed the less impact it may have on your orthodontic treatment and overall oral health.
If you would like more information on caring for teeth and gums while wearing braces, 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 “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
There are an assortment of techniques and treatments in an orthodontist's toolkit, braces being the most common and best known. Of course, there wouldn't be any tools at all if teeth couldn't move naturally.
Teeth aren't directly connected to the jawbone. An elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament lies between each one, with tiny fibers attaching to the tooth on one side and to the bone on the other. The ligament's elasticity and other qualities allow micro-movements of the teeth as we bite.
The ligament can also adapt to changes in the mouth and teeth by allowing the teeth to move to different positions. That's the basic concept behind braces: we thread a thin wire through brackets attached to the teeth, which we then attach to anchor points (usually back teeth not intended to move) and apply tension to it. Gradually over time, the target teeth move.
But what if your malocclusion (poor bite) is more complicated or the back teeth can't supply enough anchorage for moving the intended teeth? That's where we take advantage of other sources of anchorage.
One such source is the patient's skull, which we can make use of through special headgear worn a few hours a day. The device consists of a strap under tension that runs around the back of the head or neck to a wire housing attached to brackets on the target teeth. If you want to “pull” the teeth forward, the strap would come over the chin, forehead or a combination of both.
We may sometimes want to isolate some teeth to move without moving nearby teeth, such as moving front teeth backward to close a space without affecting teeth further to the rear. We can create a separate anchor point in the jaw with a TAD or temporary anchorage device.
TADs are tiny screws made of stainless steel inserted temporarily into the bone. We loop an elastic band over the TAD on one end and to a bracket or tension wire attached to the target teeth on the other. When we've achieved the teeth's new position we can easily remove the TAD from the bone.
These various tools make it possible to correct difficult or complex malocclusions. They may not always look attractive, but they'll help ensure the final result is.
If you would like more information on available orthodontic treatments, 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 “Orthodontic Headgear & Other Anchorage Appliances.”
What makes an attractive smile? Of course, shiny, straight and defect-free teeth are a big factor. But there’s another equally important element: all your teeth have come in.
Sometimes, though, they don’t: one or more teeth may remain up in the gums, a condition known as impaction. And if they’re in the front like the upper canines (the pointed teeth on either side of the front four incisors) your smile’s natural balance and symmetry can suffer.
Impaction usually happens due to lack of space on a small jaw. Previously erupted teeth crowd into the space of teeth yet to come in, preventing them from doing so. As a result the latter remain hidden within the gums.
While impaction can interfere with the smile appearance, it can cause health problems too. Impacted teeth are at higher risk for abscesses (localized areas of infection) and can damage the roots of other teeth they may be pressing against. That’s why it’s desirable for both form and function to treat them.
We begin first with an orthodontic examination to fully assess the situation. At some point we’ll want to pinpoint the impacted teeth’s precise location and position. While x-rays are useful for locating impacted teeth, many specialists use cone beam CT (CBCT) technology that produces highly detailed three-dimensional images viewable from different vantage points.
If the tooth is in too extreme a position, it might be best to remove it and later replace it with a dental impact or similar restoration once we’ve completed other necessary orthodontic treatment. But if the tooth is in a reasonable position, we might be able to “move” the tooth into its proper place in the jaw in coordination with these other tooth-movement efforts to make room for it.
To begin this process, an oral surgeon or periodontist surgically exposes the tooth crown (the normally visible portion) through the gums. They then bond a small bracket to the crown and attach a small gold chain. An orthodontist will attach the other end to orthodontic hardware that will exert downward pressure on the tooth to gradually bring it into normal position.
Dealing with impacted teeth of this nature is often part of a comprehensive effort to correct the bite. If we’re successful, it could permanently transform both the smile and overall dental health.
If you would like more information on treating impacted teeth, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
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.