FACTS ABOUT ORTHODONTICS

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Orthodontics Defined

Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics is the branch of dentistry that specializes in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. These problems are considered technically as a “malocclusion” or generally as a “bad bite”. The goal of orthodontic treatment is to bring the teeth, lips and jaws into proper alignment and achieve facial balance. This is typically achieved by utilizing corrective appliances such as braces and/or other fixed or removable appliances. In some instances, orthognathic or “jaw surgery” is necessary in conjunction with braces, to correct problems involving severe jaw discrepancies.

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Why Orthodontic Problems Occur

Many orthodontic problems can be inherited, however, some are acquired. Inherited problems include crowding of the teeth, spacing of the teeth, extra or missing teeth, cleft lip and/or palate, and many other deformities of the face and jaws.

Acquired problems or malocclusions can be caused by habits such as thumb sucking or tongue thrusting. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids, dental decay, or early loss of baby or permanent teeth can also cause dental malocclusions.

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The Importance Of Orthodontic Treatment

The goals of orthodontic treatment are to provide the patient with both a beautiful and healthy smile. Crooked and crowded teeth are hard to properly clean and maintain. This in turn can contribute to dental decay and/or gum disease. Irregularities in the bite can cause excessive wear of the teeth, excess stress on the supporting bone and/or the joints of the jaws (TMJ). When these problems are left untreated, many can become worse.

An attractive or beautiful smile is also very important. A pleasing appearance of the teeth and face is a vital asset to one’s self-confidence and self-esteem. In this way, orthodontic treatment can benefit social and career success as well as improve one’s general attitude toward life.

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When Treatment Should Begin

Since each individuals problems are unique, it is difficult to establish a time when orthodontic problems should be addressed. For this reason, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that every child first visit an orthodontist by age 7-or earlier if an orthodontic problem is detected by the family dentist, physician or family member.

This may surprise many due to the usual association of orthodontic treatment with adolescence. An early evaluation allows Dr. Upton to determine the nature of the child’s orthodontic problems and suggest the best time to address any problems to maximize the improvement in the least amount of time and with the least expense. In many patients, early intervention gives Dr. Upton the chance to correct problems that might not be easily correctable after growth of the face and jaws has ceased.

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Adult Orthodontic Treatment

More than 25 percent of all orthodontic patients are adults. Teeth are still movable in the adult population because the biological process allowing tooth movement is the same as in children. There are a few differences in adult and children’s orthodontic treatment, mainly the lack of growth in adults inhibiting some of the corrections possible in children. If the adult patient’s problems are largely due to a discrepancy in the jaws, a combined approach including orthodontics and orthognathic “jaw” surgery is possible. This treatment option can achieve very dramatic improvements in the appearance of the face and function of the jaws and teeth.

Orthodontic treatment for adults is often indicated to aid in treatment planned by one’s general dentist. This combined approach is often best when teeth are missing or mal-shaped and are planned to be replaced or restored with crowns, bridges, or implants. The orthodontic treatment is designed to properly reposition the teeth adjacent to the missing tooth site so that an ideal sized and shaped replacement tooth can be fabricated. Also, teeth that are overlapped and crowded can be straightened so that better access for cleaning can be achieved.

Another important factor in the adult patient is the continual maintenance of the health of the gums and bone that support the teeth. It is sometimes necessary that the adult patient see there dentist or a periodontist more frequently if the health of the gums or supporting bone is less than ideal.

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How Orthodontic Treatment Is Accomplished

Treatment is typically accomplished with “braces” (brackets and wires attached to the teeth) and/or custom made appliances designed to accomplish a specific goal. The braces may be made of metal, ceramic or plastic. Most are bonded (glued) to the outside surface of the teeth, however, there are braces designed to be placed on the inside surfaces of the teeth (lingual braces). The custom made appliances may be removable or fixed (cemented and/or bonded). All orthodontic appliances are designed to apply gentle pressure to the teeth resulting in movement into their proper positions.

Orthodontic appliances have significantly improved in function and design over the years. Using technology from the space industry, orthodontic wires are now capable of providing more gentle forces over a longer period of time. This often translates into a decreased frequency of office visits, reduction in overall treatment time and a decrease in the discomfort of wearing braces. Now, wires are available which are temperature sensitive which dramatically decreases the discomfort when the braces are initially placed. When the wires are cold, they act much like spaghetti. When they warm up to the temperature of the mouth, they apply gentle pressure to the teeth causing them to move.

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Time Required For Orthodontic Treatment

Active orthodontic treatment (time in braces) typically requires from one to three years with the average being two years. If the problems are minor or only certain problems are addressed, the treatment time may be shorter than one year.

It is not uncommon these days for a child’s orthodontic treatment to be broken into two phases. The first phase occurs usually between the ages of 8-10 with the second phase beginning when most or all of the permanent teeth have erupted. A two phase treatment is sometimes indicated when a child has a significant discrepancy between the growth of the upper and lower jaws. It is also indicated when there is an early loss of baby teeth and or crowding to the point that will not allow the permanent teeth to erupt.

Once the braces are removed, retainers are fabricated to maintain the new position of the teeth while the supporting structures of the teeth stabilize. After the retainers are fitted, appointments are necessary to adjust the retainers and monitor the stability of the teeth. The nature of the initial problem determines the time requirements for wearing the retainers and how long the retainers will be necessary.

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The Importance Of Cooperation

Orthodontic treatment is only successful when their is a team effort from Dr. Upton, the patient, and the parents. Dr. Upton decides the appropriate treatment and implements the necessary appliances needed to correct the problems. Many of the treatment plans prescribed for patients require the patient to wear adjunctive appliances (rubber bands, headgear, etc.) which are placed by the patient. In order for the treatment to be effective and finish in the least amount of time, these adjunctive appliances must be worn as requested by Dr. Upton. In addition to wearing these required appliances, the patient must be very careful in regards to brushing and flossing his/her teeth, eating the right foods, keeping regularly scheduled adjustment appointments, and regular cleanings from the family dentist. Parents are important team members with responsibilities of monitoring the child patient’s brushing, eating habits, wearing of prescribed appliances properly, and making the necessary appointments.

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The Cost Of Orthodontic Treatment

The actual cost of orthodontic treatment varies widely with the severity of the problems, type of braces or appliances used, and the length of time required to correct the problems. It is impossible to accurately give a fee for one’s orthodontic treatment without first examining the patient and evaluating the orthodontic problems.

Several financial options are usually available to the orthodontic patient. These typically range from plans with a down payment and monthly, quarterly, semiannual or annual payments, to a no down payment option with regular installments. Usually available is a discount if full payment for the treatment is paid in advance. American Express, Visa, MasterCard, and Discover are also usually accepted.

Orthodontic insurance is becoming more popular in many company’s benefits packages. This insurance is typically an addition to general dental insurance and typically has a lifetime maximum benefit and a restrictive age limit. If your company does not offer orthodontic insurance, you may want to request the personnel department to consider adding it. This insurance has helped many people offset the cost of treatment.

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Links Addressing Orthodontic, Surgical, And Dental Frequently Asked Questions

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