Comfortable and Convenient Orthodontic Treatment

Comfortable and Convenient Orthodontic Treatment

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Brace yourself: As a result of innovations in orthodontic materials, orthodontists are able to provide today’s patients with a comfortable and convenient experience while working toward the ultimate goal of a healthy, beautiful smile, a good bite and improved facial appearance.

Traditional braces, a combination of brackets and wires, have moved into the 21st century. Metal brackets are smaller and less conspicuous; tooth-colored brackets blend with the color of teeth. Patients benefit from the use of NASA-developed technology: advanced “space-age” wires with built-in memory. The wires, which actually move the teeth under the orthodontist’s supervision, deliver a light, continuous pressure. When they reach mouth temperature, the wires become active and “remember” their original shape. As the wires attempt to return to that shape, they gently guide the teeth into their correct positions. When compared to materials used as recently as a decade ago, today’s high-tech materials can result in fewer and less frequent appointments, so patients require less time away from school or work, and the treatment time may be shorter.

According to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), more than 5 million people in the U.S. and Canada are receiving care from AAO members, dental specialists who graduated from dental school and completed a minimum of two to three years of university-based training in an accredited orthodontic residency program. More than 1 million of these orthodontic patients are adults. Many are in their 40s, 50s and beyond.

Teeth tend to drift as people mature. Even those who were born with perfectly placed teeth can experience these unwanted changes. Many consult an orthodontist to rejuvenate their smile and get a healthy bite. Between 1994 and 2004, the number of adult patients grew by 37 percent. An estimated 63 percent of adult patients are women.

But some things never change. Orthodontic patients need to follow their orthodontist’s instructions regarding elastic wear and good oral hygiene. Avoiding foods that are too hard, sticky, crunchy or chewy is also key. Such foods can damage braces, which may lengthen time spent in braces. Additionally, orthodontic patients need to see their dentist at least every six months for checkups and professional cleanings. Following these recommendations helps patients complete their treatment on time and with desired results.

Advanced Options for Braces

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Orthodontic technologies have greatly improved the effectiveness, comfort, and aesthetic appeal of wearing braces for today’s patients. Many people who were once concerned about having to wear large metal brackets and thick bands on their teeth for years are now enjoying healthy new smiles thanks to shorter, more discreet orthodontic care.

New Choices for Traditional Braces

With traditional braces, brackets are glued to each tooth and held together by a metal loop that goes around the entire row of teeth. Modern advances have eliminated the thick steel bands and heavy brackets of the past. Today, stronger glues mean smaller, more tightly bonded brackets. Thick bands have been replaced by thin wires that are not only are harder to see, but also more effective at adjusting teeth.

These smaller, stronger components translate into fewer adjustment appointments, and ultimately a shorter treatment length. On top of that, they also improve oral health. Thick brackets and bands were difficult to clean around, and many patients suffered from tooth discoloration as a result. Over time, the exposed enamel around each bracket darkened from inadequate brushing, while the color underneath each bracket was protected; when the brackets were removed, lighter spots could be seen in the centers of many teeth. Thankfully, today’s braces rarely cause such a problem, provided patients brush regularly.

Consumer demand has also led to many cosmetic choices being made available to orthodontic patients. While stainless steel brackets are still most common, they can also be fashioned from ceramics or plastics, making them blend in more with the teeth. (Plastic brackets are discouraged for longer treatment schedules, as they tend to discolor over time.) Brackets, wires, and elastics are all available in a rainbow of colors. Clear components are also available, which make braces even harder to detect.

Invisible Braces

The latest news in orthodontics that has many people excited is the development of “invisible” braces. Instead of using brackets and wires, the orthodontist instead develops snugly-fitting molds of the top and bottom rows of teeth. While in place, these molds apply firm but gentle pressure to misaligned teeth, encouraging them to move and straighten over time.

Computer technology helps the orthodontist to map out a progressive plan to properly align the teeth, broken down into multiple steps. At each step, the current mold is replaced with a new one that provides slightly more pressure than the last. Over time, the series successfully leads to straightened rows of teeth, without any need to undergo invasive braces installation and removal.

Generally, each mold is worn for two weeks. They must be worn all day and all night, but can be removed for eating and cleaning. This prevents the tooth discoloration that often accompanies traditional braces. Most patients experience slight discomfort on the first day of a new mold, but this disappears quickly as their teeth adjust to their new positions.

Invisible braces cost more than traditional braces, but for some, they are well-worth the extra investment. Not only are they easily hidden (unless someone is standing right in front of you), but they can also be removed on rare occasions, such as wedding photos, where someone would otherwise be uncomfortable being seen in braces.

Invisible braces cannot be used to treat every case. Even if they can be tried, traditional braces still may provide a higher degree of success. Only an orthodontist can tell for certain whether or not someone makes a good candidate for invisible braces.