Dental braces are worn to correct crooked teeth or a misaligned bite, such as an underbite or an overbite. Many people get braces when they are in their preteen or teen years, but there are many adults who get braces as well.
If your child has difficulty chewing or biting, crowded or misplaced teeth, teeth that meet abnormally or not at all, or frequently has trouble with biting his or her cheeks or roof of the mouth, your dentist may recommend braces.
Space problems or misalignment in the teeth and jaw are often genetic. In other cases, these problems may be caused by thumb-sucking, dental decay, poor nutrition, or an accident that impacts the mouth or jaw.
If crowded or poorly aligned teeth are not straightened, over time there is an increased risk of tooth decay and tooth loss, gum disease, problems with speech and chewing, and jaw problems.
Years ago, dentists used to wait until a child’s second set of molars came in, around age 12, before evaluating them for braces. Today, some children can be evaluated for braces as young as age 5 or 6. Orthodontic treatment usually begins between ages 8 and 12. Your dentist can recommend the best approach for your child.
Braces slowly move teeth into better alignment by applying mild but constant pressure over a period of time. The underlying bone will also change shape as the teeth move.
There are several different types of braces available:
Traditional braces are made from stainless steel. They have many components, including brackets, the small squares that are bonded directly to the front of each tooth; arch wires, which are attached to the brackets and guide the movement of the teeth; and elastics or rubber bands, which can be attached to hooks on the brackets and put pressure to move the teeth. A dentist periodically tightens the braces as the teeth move into place.
Steel braces are also available with many different colors of elastics. Colored braces can even be changed to different palettes when you get your braces tightened.
Ceramic braces have similar components to traditional braces, but because they are made from a clear, transparent ceramic material, they are less noticeable.
Damon braces use a slide mechanism instead of elastics to connect the archwires, allowing the teeth to move on their own rather than needing to be periodically tightened by the dentist.
Invisalign is an alternative to braces that uses no brackets or wires. Instead, a series of clear plastic aligner trays are custom-made to fit the individual, and changed every few weeks until treatment is complete.
Palate expanders are devices that apply pressure to the back of the upper molars to gradually force the teeth farther apart. When teeth are overcrowded, a palate expander can make room for other types of braces to correct the position of the teeth.
Retainers are custom-made pieces of plastic and metal that are worn in the mouth after braces come off. Sometimes, if there is only a small misalignment in the teeth, or just a single gap between teeth, a retainer may be worn instead of braces. How often, and for how long, the retainer is worn depends on the individual.
Good dental hygiene is very important when you have braces. Be sure to brush every tooth at the gumline, as well as above and below each bracket. Floss threaders—flexible nylon loops sold at any drugstore—can make it easier to floss when you have braces. Rinsing with a fluoride mouth rinse can help prevent cavities and gingivitis.
It’s never to late to correct your smile! Some people get braces as adults because they did not have the opportunity to have them as children, while others have had unexpected shifting in their teeth with age. If your bones and gums are healthy enough to undergo the forces needed to move your teeth, getting braces should be fine for you at any age. Adult braces come in all the same options that braces for children and teens do.