What Is Orthodontics?

Orthodontics is a special discipline of dentistry concerned with aligning the teeth and jaws to improve one's smile and oral health.

Through orthodontic treatment, problems like crooked or crowded teeth, overbites or underbites, incorrect jaw position and disorders of the jaw joints are corrected.

Orthodontics are often necessary to help improve the stability, function and health of an individualís teeth; otherwise, many people would be at higher risk for gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss because of improper teeth positioning in their mouth, according to an article in the January 2006 issue of AGD Impact, the newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

"Orthodontics can make people feel better about themselves," says AGD spokesperson James G. Richeson, Jr., DDS, FAGD. "Many patients, prior to orthodontics, smile with their mouth closed, because they are self-conscious about their teeth, but after orthodontics, they usually smile naturally, showing off their new look."

General dentists can assess a childís need for orthodontics or alternative treatments. A dentist usually recommends braces to improve a patientís physical facial appearance. Through orthodontic treatment, problems like crooked or crowded teeth, overbites or underbites, incorrect jaw position and disorders of the jaw joint can be corrected.

Alternative orthodontic treatments have long been available but may not always be as comprehensive as orthodontics. Space maintainers help maintain space for adult teeth and can prevent complications and the need for more orthodontic therapy. Removable computer-generated appliances can treat selective cases in which orthodontics would otherwise be needed, but these appliances also may cost more. Removable appliances that use wires also are available but their use depends on the complexity of the case and what needs to be achieved in the movement of the patientís teeth. A palatal expander is often used in cases where the upper arch isnít spreading as wide as it needs to, says Dr. Richeson, and such an appliance is utilized to expand that arch. The palatal expander is best used while a child is still growing, usually between ages 8 and 10.

"By age 7, a child will have started to get adult molars in place, and the position of these and the primary teeth provide the childís general dentist with a good perspective of the development of the childís dentition and any need for orthodontics," explains Dr. Richeson.

© 2007 Academy of General Dentistry