Types of Braces
For many teens, braces are a rite of passage: They're more examples of the changes adolescents go through at this time — along with growth in stature, edgier tastes in clothes and music, and an increasing degree of self-awareness. But is there any particular reason why orthodontic appliances and teenagers seem to go together? In a word: Yes.
There are several good reasons why adolescence is the optimal time for orthodontic treatment, though occasionally even earlier intervention is called for. One has to do with the development of the teeth: There's no set timetable for every kid, but generally by the age of 11-13 the deciduous (baby) teeth have all been lost, and the permanent ones have largely come in. This is the time when we can go to work correcting the problems that cause a bad bite (malocclusion), improper tooth spacing or poor alignment.
Orthodontic problems don't improve with age — they simply become harder to treat. It's easier to treat many orthodontic problems during adolescence because the body is still growing rapidly at this time. Whether standard braces are used, or appliances like palatal expanders, improved appearance and function can be created in a short period of time. In later years, when the bones of the face and jaw are fully developed, many conditions become more difficult (and costly) to treat.
There's even a social element to getting orthodontic treatment in adolescence. If you need braces, you're not alone! Chances are you'll see some of your classmates in the dental office, and you may even make new friends as you go through the process together. When it's done, you'll have a smile that you can really be proud of, and benefits that will last your whole life.
The Orthodontic Treatment Process
What can you expect when you have orthodontic treatment? It all depends on what kind of treatment you need. At your first appointment, pictures and radiographic (X-ray) images of your mouth are usually taken, along with impressions of your teeth, so that a model of your bite can be made. This information will be used to develop a treatment plan. It may involve regular braces, with or without elastics (rubber bands). A specialized appliance may also be recommended for a period of time. Here are some of the most commonly used orthodontic appliances:
Metal Braces need no introduction. But you might be surprised to find they're smaller and lighter than ever. They may even offer some customized options, like colored elastic ties on the brackets. Traditional braces are comprised of brackets that are affixed to teeth and wires that are threaded through slots in the brackets. Wires are held to brackets by tiny rubber bands called “ligatures” or “o-rings.” Brackets are generally made of stainless steel. Wires are made of metal alloys and deliver a constant, gentle force to move teeth.
Clear Braces feature brackets made of ceramic or composite materials which blend in with your teeth, making them harder to notice. They're suitable in many situations, but they cost a little more.
Lingual Braces offer the most unnoticeable form of orthodontic treatment because they are attached to the back (tongue side) of the teeth, where they cannot be seen at all.
Other orthodontic appliances may be recommended in some cases, where major tooth or jaw movement is needed. They can range from small devices that fit inside the mouth to external headgear. But don't worry: You'll get used to them, and they're temporary — but they provide a long-term benefit in a short time.
How Long Will I Wear Them?
There's no one answer that fits everyone: It all depends on what has to be done in your individual situation. Generally, however, the active stage of orthodontic treatment lasts 6-30 months. Afterwards, you will wear a retainer for another period of months. When your orthodontic treatment is complete, a new smile will be yours for a lifetime.
Caring For Your Braces
Generally, those who wear braces need to practice good oral hygiene in much the same way as those who don't. Of course, wearing braces creates unique problems. For example, avoid hard and sticky foods. Don't chew on pens, pencils or fingernails because chewing on hard things can damage the braces, almost ensuring longer-than-needed treatment times and cost. After application of braces, your orthodontist will show you how best to care for your teeth, gums and braces. This includes tips on how often to brush, how often to floss, and, if necessary, other cleaning aids that might help you maintain good dental health.
Overall, orthodontic discomfort is short-lived and easily managed. Most people have some discomfort after their braces are first put on or when adjusted during treatment. After the braces are on, teeth may become sore and may be tender to biting pressures for three to five days. The lips, cheeks and tongue may also become irritated for one to two weeks as they toughen and become accustomed to the surface of the braces. Patients can usually manage this discomfort well with whatever pain medication they might commonly take for a headache.
Braces And Your Active Lifestyle
Those who wear braces and play any contact sports, should always wear a protective mouth guard. Playing wind or brass instruments, such as the trumpet, will clearly require some adaptation to braces. With practice and a period of adjustment, braces typically do not interfere with the playing of musical instruments.
Retainers are needed after orthodontic treatment and removal of braces because the teeth can shift out of position if they are not stabilized. Retainers are designed to hold teeth in their corrected, ideal positions until the bones and gums adapt to the treatment changes. Wearing retainers exactly as instructed is the best insurance that the treatment improvements last for a lifetime.
Interested in learning more about braces? Call our Fairfax, VA office at (703) 877-0990 to schedule your appointment today!