The straightening process for a crooked smile doesn't end when the braces come off. There's one more crucial phase to undergo to make sure we don't lose the progress you've achieved: wearing an orthodontic retainer.
Although often viewed as a nuisance, retainers are important because they prevent realigned teeth from reverting to their old positions. This is possible because the periodontal ligament, the gum attachment that allows us to move teeth in the first place, can contain “muscle memory” that naturally tries to draw teeth back to where they once were.
A retainer prevents this from happening: During wear the subtle pressure they exert keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they're firmly established, usually after several months. While most patients initially wear a retainer around the clock, this will gradually taper off until they're worn primarily during sleep hours.
While retainers come in many different styles and sizes, most fall into one of two categories: removable or non-removable (bonded). The first type, a custom-made appliance a patient can easily take in and out of the mouth, has its advantages. Removing it makes it easier to clean the teeth. They're also adaptable to reduced wear schedules for eating, brushing and flossing, or for special occasions.
But a removable retainer may be noticeable to others. Its removability can also lead to problems. Out of the mouth they're prone to be lost, resulting in additional replacement costs. And immature patients may be easily tempted to take them out too often—or not wear them at all.
A bonded retainer solves many of these potential problems. Because the retainer wire is securely bonded to the back of the teeth, it's not visible to others. And because it can't be removed except by an orthodontist, there's virtually no chance of losing it or haphazard wear.
On the other hand, bonded retainers can occasionally break, requiring repair or replacement. And flossing is more difficult than with a removable retainer, although a little training from a dental hygienist can make that easier.
The choice of retainer depends on the individual and their priorities. But whether removable or bonded, a retainer is absolutely essential for protecting your new, hard-earned smile.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bonded Retainers.”
When your braces finally come off, you’ll hopefully be astounded by what you see –once-crooked teeth replaced by a more attractive smile. But you might also see something you didn’t expect: noticeable white spots on some of your teeth.
These spots called white spot lesions (WSLs) appear lighter than the surrounding tooth enamel due to mineral loss just beneath the surface. This happens because bacterial or food acids have contacted the enamel surface for too long and dissolved the underlying calcium and other minerals. This results in a small discolored and chalky-like area in the enamel.
WSLs are common during orthodontics because wires and brackets create hard to reach places for brushing and flossing, which can accumulate bacterial plaque. The bacteria produce acid, which weakens the enamel at these places. The tiny white spots that result are more than just unattractive—they can become entry points into the tooth for decay. That’s why they should be dealt with as soon as possible—and preferably before they’re created.
To that end, you’ll need to do as thorough a job as possible brushing and flossing while undergoing orthodontic treatment. To improve your thoroughness try using an interproximal toothbrush that can maneuver more closely around braces hardware than a regular brush. You can also improve your flossing with a floss threader or a water flosser, a device that sprays pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque.
If you do develop WSLs, there are some things we can do to treat them. We can attempt to re-mineralize the affected enamel with the help of topical fluoride (either pastes or gels for home use or with an office application) or a re-mineralizing agent. We can also use techniques like microabrasion, which restores damaged areas beneath the surface, or inject a liquid, tooth-colored resin beneath the WSL’s surface to improve appearance and protect against decay.
If while wearing braces you do notice any white spots or other tooth discoloration let your dentist or orthodontist know right away. The sooner your dental providers can begin dealing with potential WSLs the better your chances for a healthy and beautiful outcome after braces.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene while wearing braces, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
Every year many parents learn their “tweenager” or teenager needs their bite corrected, often with specialized orthodontics. Imagine, though, if these families could go back in time to when their child’s poor bite was just developing to stop or slow it from forming.
Time travel may still be science fiction, but the approach suggested isn’t. It’s called interceptive orthodontics, a group of techniques and procedures performed during the early stages of jaw development. The focus is usually on getting abnormal jaw growth back on track, enough so that a poor bite won’t form.
The upper jaw, for example, may be growing too narrow, reducing the amount of available space for tooth eruption. If it isn’t corrected, teeth can erupt out of position. To correct it, an orthodontist places a palatal expander in the roof of the child’s mouth (palate). The appliance applies gentle pressure against the inside of the teeth, which stimulates the jaws to develop wider.
The expander works because of a separation in the bones at the center of the palate, which later fuse around puberty. The pressure applied from the expander keeps this gap slightly open; the body then continues to fill the widening expansion with bone, enough over time to widen the jaw. If you wait until puberty, the gap has already fused, and it would have to be reopened surgically to use this technique. Ideally, then, a palatal expander should be employed at a young age.
Not all interceptive techniques are this extensive—some, like a space maintainer, are quite simple. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost prematurely, teeth next to the empty space tend to drift into it and cause the intended permanent tooth to erupt out of place due to a lack of space. To prevent this an orthodontist places a small wire loop within the space to prevent other teeth from moving into it.
These are but two examples of the many methods for stopping or slowing a developing bite problem. To achieve the best outcome, they need to be well-timed. Be sure, then, to have your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. If an interceptive orthodontic approach is needed, it could eliminate the need for more extensive—and expensive—treatment later.
Orthodontic braces are a familiar sight, especially among tweens and teens: metal brackets and wires attached to the front of the teeth for all to see. Now imagine the opposite: much the same hardware, but now positioned out of sight on the back of the teeth.
It's not your imagination: It's the latest development in orthodontic technology called lingual braces. Developed simultaneously by two orthodontists in Japan and Beverly Hills, these appliances are placed on the tongue or “lingual” side of the teeth rather than the traditional labial or “lip-side.”
Generally, lingual braces can correct any bite problem labial braces can. The difference lies in how each method does its job: Traditional braces exert pressure or “push” against the teeth, while lingual braces “pull” the teeth into better alignment.
So, why choose lingual over labial? For one, they're “invisible” to others: all the hardware is on the backside of the teeth, out of sight. They're also not as readily exposed to blunt force facial trauma, which can damage traditional braces (a driving impetus for the Japanese doctor to develop them for his martial arts patients, and his American counterpart for a law enforcement patient working in a rough area).
Patients may also prefer lingual braces over removable clear aligners, another popular tooth-movement option. Fixed lingual braces achieve the same quality of “invisibility” as removable aligners, but without the inconvenience of removing them as patients must with aligners for eating, snacking or cleaning.
They can, however, be costly, running 15-35% more than labial braces. Patients may also have difficulty adjusting to them because they can affect speech and tongue comfort. However, any discomfort and initial regret with choosing lingual braces tends to fade as most patients grow more accustomed to them after a week or so.
There's one other “perk” to lingual braces—unlike patients with traditional braces who have to wait for their removal to see the finished bite correction, patients with lingual braces get an unobstructed view of their progress all during wear. That can definitely boost morale during the long treatment period!
Lingual braces haven't been around long, so not every orthodontist offers them. But the list is growing, and there soon may be a provider near you for this new teeth-straightening alternative.
If you would like more information on lingual braces, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Lingual Braces: A Truly Invisible Way to Straighten Teeth.”
While braces are often the stars for straightening smiles, they're not the only cast members in an orthodontic production. Orthodontists occasionally turn to other appliances if the bite problem is challenging. Whatever the tool, though, they usually have something in common—they use the principle of anchorage.
To understand anchorage, let's first consider the classic kid's game Tug of War. With teams on either end of a rope, the object is to pull the opposing team across the center line before they pull you. To maximize your pulling force, the player at the back of your rope, usually your stoutest member, holds steady or "anchors" the rest of the team.
Like a Tug of War team, braces exert force against the teeth. This stimulates the supporting periodontal ligament to remodel itself and allow the teeth to move. The braces use the teeth they are attached to as anchors, which in a lot of cases are the back teeth. By attaching a thin wire to the brackets or braces on the teeth, the orthodontist includes all the teeth on the arch, from one end to the other. Anchored in place, the wire can maintain a constant pressure against the teeth to move them.
But not all bite situations are this straightforward. Sometimes an orthodontist needs to influence jaw growth in addition to teeth movement. For this purpose, they often use orthodontic headgear, which runs around the back of the head or neck and attaches to orthodontic brackets on the teeth. It still involves an anchor but in this case it's the patient's own skull.
In some situations, an orthodontist may feel he or she needs more anchorage as the teeth alone may not be enough. For this, they might establish a separate or additional anchor point using a temporary anchorage device (TAD). A TAD resembles a tiny screw that's inserted into the jawbone near the tooth intended for movement. The orthodontist can then attach the TAD to braces hardware using some form of elastics. After treatment, they remove the TAD.
These are just a couple examples of specialized tools an orthodontist can use for bite correction. Thanks to them and similar devices, even the most complex bite problem can be overcome to create a healthier and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on correcting a poor bite, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Orthodontic Headgear & Other Anchorage Appliances.”