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Brace yourself for a better smile. Orthodontics is a largely cosmetic dental treatment that is designed to realign a patient’s bite and improve the appearance of their teeth. The process usually involves the use of special components (braces) that apply pressure to troublesome teeth and force a change in position, ridding you of gnarly gnashers.

How does it work?

Orthodontics is typically carried out whilst a patient is still a teenager, as emerging adult teeth have had less time to set in position during new bone growth. Treatment begins after the patient’s regular dentist sets up a referral to an orthodontic practitioner following a detailed assessment.

Treatment often takes place in stages and different braces used to remedy different problems:

*Metal wires (archwires) inserted into metal or ceramic brackets and mounted onto the teeth form the most commonly known powerchain or ‘train track’ braces (so called because of their similarity in appearance to ladder-style railway lines).

*Plastic plates that fit on to the roof or base of the mouth with wires that wrap around individual teeth that are to be targeted, called retainers. Less powerful and effective than powerchains and so they are mostly used for minor adjustments and for keeping realigned teeth in place until they are deemed to have settled in their new positions.

*Head braces are used to enhance the effects of powerchains and are often worn periodically (for example, overnight) to speed up the realignment process.

*Invisalign braces are clear, removable braces that are moulded to the patient’s teeth. More discrete than traditional metal braces, they are favoured by celebrities wishing to improve their smile in later life, but are also more expensive.

Braces are tailored to each patient following a series of moulds that are taken of their teeth (known as ‘impressions’). Each new brace or tweak of an existing component is made following further assessment of the treatment’s progress.

Over time, it is possible that patients will experience some regressive movement as the jaw ages, but the aim is to minimise later crowding or gaps with active treatment whilst bone reforms. To insure that realigned teeth stay put, a course of orthodontic treatment usually lasts for many years, with a final set of retainers being worn overnight for as long as the orthodontist recommends.

Is it for me?

If you’ve always been self conscious about your gap-toothed grin or simply feel that your smile could do with some smartening, then orthodontics could offer a less drastic solution than dental surgery or implants.

Bear in mind the costs- the NHS rarely covers orthodontic treatment for over 18s so expect to shell out for your braces, and adherence to your practitioner’s recommendations is a must if you want your treatment to be a success (so no slacking with retainer wear)!

Children below the age of nine or ten are rarely treated as milk teeth have yet to fall out and acceptance for treatment will also depend on the condition of your teeth. Orthodontics cannot fix malformed or unhealthy teeth and good oral hygiene during treatment is a must. Appliances and components can form an ideal building ground for plaque bacteria close to the enamel, so both teeth and braces must be kept clean during treatment and after meals.

Tooth extractions may also be required if overcrowding is a problem, so if you are needle shy then take this into consideration as well.

Good to know

Although what appear to be orthodontic appliances have been found in Greek and Etruscan ruins, Edward Angle is considered to be the ‘Father of Modern Orthodontics’. He was the first dentist to limit his practice to purely orthodontics in 1899.

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