Understanding Orthodontics

Orthodontics is a specialized field within dentistry, which focuses on identifying and correcting problems with the teeth and jaw. Orthodontic treatment corrects problems like overbites, spacing, and crowding. If left untreated, problems with tooth alignment can lead to jaw pain, headaches, premature enamel wear, gum disease, and other problems later in life. Although orthodontic treatment can certainly work for adults, it’s commonly done during childhood.


If you have orthodontic problems like overbite or crowding, you’ll probably be referred to an orthodontist by your general dentist. You’ll be able to select treatment options that can correct the problem, improving the appearance of your teeth while preventing further health issues.


The Ideal Age for Braces


Although orthodontic evaluation is recommended at age seven, and some interventions like palatal expanders can be implemented at a young age, braces are usually installed when a child is slightly older. The optimal time for braces is between the ages of 10 and 14. At this point, the body is still growing, but all of the adult teeth have erupted. Also, because it’s so common for children of this age to have braces, they’re less likely to be embarrassed than they might be at an older age. With that said, each patient is unique, and your orthodontist can recommend the best time for that individual child to have their teeth straightened.


What Conditions Can Orthodontics Treat?


Orthodontic treatments like braces and palatal expanders are used to slowly shift the teeth or jaws into a correct alignment. This can be used to address several different kinds of dental abnormalities.


  • Crowding and spacing. Sometimes, the size of a person’s jaw, when their adult teeth erupt, is too large or too small. This causes the teeth to be either too close together or too widely spaced.
  • Underbite. In an underbite, the lower teeth stick out past the upper teeth. This can lead to excessive wear on tooth enamel, along with jaw pain.
  • Overbite. Sometimes referred to as “buck teeth,” this genetically determined condition causes the upper jaw to protrude too far past the lower jaw.
  • Crossbite. In a crossbite, the upper teeth sit inside the lower teeth. This can make it difficult to chew food correctly, and increases the risk of sleep apnea and other nighttime breathing problems.


Common Orthodontic Treatments & Procedures


Orthodontic problems are usually corrected with orthodontic appliances, which are installed in the teeth to slowly shift the alignment of the teeth themselves. Some appliances also affect jaw alignment. Some of the most common treatments include:


  • Fixed braces. This is what most people think of when they think of “orthodontics.” Nearly everyone has braces at some point in their life, usually between the ages of 10 and 15. Fixed braces are not removable, with the brackets attached firmly to the teeth using adhesive. The brackets are connected with wires, which can be replaced and tightened periodically.
  • Removable braces are a relatively recent alternative to traditional fixed braces. These can be removed.
  • Functional appliances. Functional appliances both move the teeth and modify the growth of the jaws. Usually used in growing children, they can help correct a lower jaw that’s too small.
  • Palatal expanders. A palatal expander widens the upper jaw, fixing crossbite, crowding, malocclusion, and other problems.


The type of treatment that works best can depend on exactly what orthodontic issues you have. Treatment can also differ in its duration. After orthodontic appliances are removed, the aesthetic appearance of the teeth improves substantially, helping patients feel more confident. It also prevents craniofacial pain issues, tooth decay, gum disease, and other secondary problems that can result from dental misalignment.


Orthodontics isn’t just a matter of having perfect-looking teeth. It also improves your dental health and quality of life. While most people have these problems addressed during late childhood or early adolescence, it’s never too late to look into adult orthodontic options.