Dental braces are wire-based appliances that orthodontists use to correct crowded and misaligned teeth or jaws. Many people who need dental braces get them during their early teenage years, but adults also can benefit from wearing braces. The goal of dental braces is to properly align your teeth and jaws to produce an even bite and pleasing smile.
For minor corrections, an option is a series of customized, removable appliances called clear aligners or "invisible braces." These may have a more acceptable appearance to some adults. If you're considering clear aligners versus fixed braces, ask about the cost and the pros and cons for your specific needs. Many people need fixed braces to properly correct their dental problems.
Modern materials and technologies make the experience of having dental braces much more comfortable than in the past.
Dental braces offer corrective treatment for:
Proper alignment of your teeth and jaws may improve not only the appearance of your teeth but also the health of your mouth and the way you bite, chew and speak.
If you're an adult with braces, you may need to wear them longer than a younger person would, but they can still produce similar results — for example, correcting crooked teeth or a misaligned jaw. Because your facial bones are no longer growing, however, there may be some problems that can't be corrected with braces alone.
Wearing dental braces is generally a very safe procedure. However, there are some risks.
Braces create tiny spaces around your teeth that can trap food particles and promote bacteria-filled plaque deposits. Failure to remove deposits of food and plaque can lead to:
Long-term risks may include:
To reduce the risk of damaging your teeth and braces:
If your regular dentist notices problems with your teeth or jaws that may require treatment, he or she will likely refer you to an orthodontist — a dentist who specializes in diagnosing, preventing and treating dental and facial irregularities.
Some tooth alignment problems happen when children develop and can be guided before puberty but become more apparent once the permanent teeth begin to come through the gum (erupt). However, your orthodontist may recommend waiting until enough teeth have come through before applying braces. Most children get braces between the ages of 8 and 14 years, while their facial bones are still growing and their teeth are easier to move.
Preparation for braces generally involves:
After your orthodontist has evaluated your teeth and jaws, he or she customizes a treatment plan for you. This most often involves the use of fixed braces, which are temporarily bonded to your teeth.
Treatment is done in three phases: the initial placement of the braces (or clear aligners), periodic adjustments and use of a retainer after the braces are removed.
Fixed dental braces typically consist of these components:
Instead of using fixed braces, certain people who need only minor corrections may benefit from a series of customized, removable appliances called clear aligners. Typically, each set of aligners is worn for one to three weeks, as close to 24 hours a day as possible — except when eating, brushing or flossing — until it's replaced by the next set. The entire series of aligners may take up to nine months or longer, allowing better alignment.
Only plain water is OK to drink when wearing aligners. After taking the aligners out to eat or drink any other food or beverage, be sure to brush your teeth before putting the aligners back in. Floss as often as directed — at least daily.
After fixed braces are placed on your teeth, your orthodontist adjusts them periodically by tightening or bending the interconnecting wires. This puts mild pressure on the teeth and gradually shifts them into new positions. The jaw responds to the pressure by dissolving bone in the path of the moving tooth and laying down new bone behind it.
Occasionally, the orthodontist may use tension between the upper and lower jaws to help correct alignment. This is often done with elastic bands stretched between opposing teeth.
Your teeth and jaws may feel slightly sore for the first few days after an adjustment. This discomfort can usually be eased with an over-the-counter pain reliever. Tell your orthodontist if the discomfort is severe or becomes worse.
After dental braces are removed, the newly straightened teeth need to be stabilized for a period of time (retention period) to prevent them from shifting back to their original position. This is accomplished with the use of a custom-made appliance typically made of plastic or plastic and metal wires that help teeth stay in place (retainer).
Retainers are usually removable, but may be fixed. Or a combination of fixed and removable may be used.
Fixed dental braces use the pressure of an adjustable wire (archwire) running through brackets and bands attached to your teeth to align your teeth and jaws. Elastic ties fix the wire to the brackets. A buccal tube secures the end of the wire.
Braces are generally very effective in realigning crooked teeth and helping correct improperly positioned jaws to create a nice smile and a healthy mouth.
On average, most people wear full braces for one to three years. Retainers may be worn indefinitely to ensure that the final results remain stable.
The person wearing the braces has an important role to play in the success of the treatment. Follow the orthodontist's instructions precisely, especially during the retention period. When it comes to this final phase, it's important to wear the retainer as directed or risk losing the benefits gained while wearing braces.