Orthodontics is a specialized field of dentistry that diagnoses, treats and prevents irregularities in the teeth and face. In the past, orthodontic treatment was associated with children but nowadays there is no age limit. Adults usually prefer cosmetic braces that resemble the color of the teeth and can hardly be seen.
The appliance does more than straighten crooked teeth. The mouth, facial muscles and teeth always work together. When one of them is out of alignment, the overall aesthetics of the face is affected, as is speech, swallowing and even breathing. Although it is hard to predict how long an orthodontic treatment will take, on average it takes between 18 to 36 months.
Most people think straightening of teeth should be done during adolescence but it is actually best if the first evaluation be done around age 4 or 5. Early care can prevent many problems, such as lengthy treatments, extractions, periodontal disease and future corrective surgery. The following are indicators of need for orthodontic treatment:
- Teeth are not aligned
- Primary (baby) tooth is retained, i.e., doesn’t fall off, and the permanent tooth doesn’t erupt
- Absence of a tooth
- Teeth erupt in the wrong place: roof of the mouth, next to the tongue, turned around or overlapping
- Open bite: the child closes the mouth but the front teeth don’t touch (usually due to use of pacifier or to thumb sucking)
- Crossbite: upper teeth stay behind the lower teeth when the mouth is closed
- Difficulty swallowing: the child grimaces or contracts the mouth in order to swallow
- Bone structure: chin protrudes or stays too far back
- Breathing through the mouth: often times a result of thumb sucking