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Orthodontics, not just for kids anymore

While the idea of getting braces seems like something for children or awkward adolescents, an increasing number of adults are turning to orthodontics to get the smile they have always wanted.
The American Association of Orthodontists estimates that more than one million adults in the United States and Canada are receiving treatment from orthodontists, making one in five orthodontic patients an adult.
Part of the increase in adult patients comes from advanced technology, making braces less noticeable, as well as more flexible, allowing patients to sing, play an instrument, dine out or have photographs taken.

It is well recognized that when left untreated, many orthodontic problems may become worse. Such conditions can lead to dental health problems, including tooth decay, gum disease and even tooth loss.
Bad bites can also result in abnormal wearing of tooth surfaces, difficulty chewing, damage to bone and gum tissue, as well as jaw pain.
Unlike earlier generations, when the majority of people lost their teeth in their 40s, more people are keeping their natural teeth much later in life. The AAO estimates that the average 25-year-old can expect another 75 years with his or her own teeth.
This is a major change in dental health care. If teeth do not fit well, they often wear down more quickly.

At What Age Can People Have Orthodontic Treatment?

The biological process involved in moving teeth is the same at any age. Children and adults can both benefit from orthodontics, and it is recommended that every child receive an orthodontic evaluation by age 7. Treatment may take a little longer for adults. Because an adult's facial bones are no longer growing, certain corrections may not be accomplished with braces alone.

What Caused Orthodontic Problems?

An orthodontic problem is called a malocclusion, meaning bad bite. Some examples of causes of malocclusion are crowded teeth, extra teeth, missing teeth or jaws that are out of alignment. Most malocclusions are inherited, although some can be acquired. Acquired malocclusions can be caused by accidents, early or late loss of baby teeth, or sucking of the thumb or fingers for a prolonged period of time.

How Are OrthodonticProblems Corrected?

First, pretreatment records are made. These records are important tools for the orthodontist to use in making an accurate diagnosis and include medical/dental history, clinical examination, plaster study models of teeth, photos of your face and teeth and X-rays of your mouth and head. This information will be used to decide on the best treatment.
Next, a custom treatment plan is outlined for each patient. The specific treatment appliance best suited to correct the patient's orthodontic problem is constructed.
When the orthodontic appliances are in place, this is considered the active treatment phase. Appliances are adjusted periodically so that the teeth are moved correctly and efficiently.
The time required for orthodontic treatment varies from person to person. An important factor in how long a patient wears braces is how well the patient cooperates during treatment.
After active treatment is completed, the retention phase begins. A patient will need to wear a retainer so that the teeth stay in their new positions. For severe orthodontic problems, surgery may be recommended.

Noticeable Braces?

Today's braces are generally less noticeable than those of the past. Brackets, the part of the braces that hold the wires, are bonded to the front of the teeth and can be metal, clear or tooth-colored. Wires that are used for braces today are also less noticeable.
In some cases, brackets may be put on the back of the teeth (lingual appliances). Modern wires are also less noticeable than their predecessors. Today's wires are made of materials that exert a steady, gentle pressure on the teeth, making the tooth-moving process faster and more comfortable for patients.

How Long Will Treatment Take?

Although the average treatment time is about 24 months, this varies with individual patients. Usually, adult treatment takes a little longer than a child's treatment.
Other things to keep in mind are the severity of the problem, the health of the teeth, gums and supporting bone and how closely the patient follows instructions. While orthodontic treatment requires a time commitment, most people feel the benefits are well worth the time invested.

Can Adult Teeth Be Moved?

Healthy teeth can be moved at any age. Orthodontic forces move the teeth in the same way for both adults and children, but adult treatment may take longer due to the maturity of the bone. Complicating factors, such as lack of jaw growth, may create different treatment needs for the adult.

How Does Adult Treatment Differ From That Of Children?

Adults are not growing and may have experienced some breakdown or loss of their teeth and the bone that supports the teeth, so orthodontics may then be only part of the patient's overall treatment plan.
Close coordination may be required among the orthodontist, oral surgeon, periodontist, endodontist and family dentist to assure that the treatment plan is managed well.
Since adults' jaws are no longer growing, jaw discrepancy problems, including both width and length, in the adult patient may require surgery.

Additionally, adults are more likely to have some level of gum disease. Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth. The word periodontal literally means "around the tooth." Many people are unaware they have gum disease, because there is usually little or no pain.
The mildest form of the disease is called gingivitis. The gums redden, swell and bleed easily. Gingivitis is often linked to inadequate oral hygiene. Gingivitis is often reversible with professional treatment and good oral home care.
Untreated gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease. In this form, toxins released by bacteria irritate the gum, which can cause the gums to separate from the teeth, forming pockets that become infected. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Eventually, teeth can become loose and may have to be removed.
The good news is that teeth that are properly aligned are less prone to gum disease.

Special treatment by the patient's dentist or a periodontist may be necessary before, during and/or after orthodontic treatment. Bone loss can also limit the amount and direction of tooth movement that is advisable. Adults who have a history of, or concerns about, periodontal disease might also see a periodontist on a regular basis throughout orthodontic treatment.
Worn, damaged or missing teeth can make orthodontic treatment more difficult. Teeth may gradually wear and move into positions where they can be restored only after precise orthodontic movement. Damaged or broken teeth may not look good or function well even after orthodontic treatment unless they are carefully restored by the patient's dentist.

Can Orthodontics Help Jaw Pain?

One of the problems commonly associated with jaw muscle and jaw joint discomfort is bruxing, or habitual grinding or clenching of the teeth, particularly at night.
Bruxism is a muscle habit pattern that can cause severe wearing of the teeth and overloading and trauma to the jaw joint structures. Chronically or acutely sore and painful jaw muscles may accompany the habit. An orthodontist can help diagnose this problem.
Your family dentist or orthodontist may place a bite splint, or nightguard, that can protect the teeth and help jaw muscles relax, substantially reducing the original pain symptoms. Sometimes structural damage can require joint surgery and/or restoration of damaged teeth. Referral to a TMJ specialist may be suggested for some of these problems.

Why Now?

Orthodontic treatment, when indicated, is a positive treatment, especially for adults who have dealt with a long-term problem. Orthodontic treatment can restore proper function and improve overall aesthetics.

Information provided by the American Association of Orthodontists