By Natasha Gayle
Through the eyes of a preteen, the thought of braces may call to mind embarrassment and food restriction. When you were young, you may have hated orthodontists for chaining uncool things on your teeth and for telling you what you could not eat, finally deciding after several years that your teeth were straight enough to release you.
An orthodontist provides procedures to fix conditions such as dental overbites, underbites, and crowded or misaligned teeth. These issues can be fixed by slowly applying pressure on specific teeth to coax them into place without surgery.
Especially as you age, it is easier to note the important contribution of orthodontists to quality of life and dental care. You many realize that orthodontists do not aim to restrict dental patients, but that orthodontists aim simply to correct potentially harmful dental imperfections while improving smiles.
The word “orthodontics” originates from the Greek word “ortho,” meaning straight, and the Greek work “odons,” meaning tooth. Orthodontists can require anywhere from a few months to a few years of treatment to fix your teeth, depending on the dental problem – a mouth with an overbite including large gaps between teeth can take as many as 4 years to correct.
Almost all treatment by orthodontists begins with the creation of a mold from the patient’s mouth cavity with which orthodontists can use to assess the patient and to create appropriate pieces to fit in the patient’s mouth. Treatment at orthodontists often involves braces, small metal or plastic pieces glued to teeth and chained together to straighten teeth and align the patient's bite. These chains are slowly tightened in small increments every time a patient visits the orthodontist, often about every 6 weeks. The time wearing braces may be decreased by the consistent wearing of rubber bands to hold the jaw and teeth in braces more tightly together.
Orthodontic malocclusions (crooked teeth that do not fit together properly) can result from disproportionate jaws and/or dental tooth irregularity. Often orthodontic treatment involves a retainer, a plastic or metal piece molded to fit a patient’s mouth to either move the teeth slightly or to keep teeth straight after braces are removed.
Believe it or not, an orthodontist's job is not merely cosmetic. Work performed by orthodontists is very practical as well, improving the quality of life for many patients and preventing more severe problems in the future by fixing dental irregularities early on. The United States Department of Labor states the following objectives for orthodontists:
“A) Examine, diagnose, and treat dental malocclusions and oral cavity anomalies.
B) Design and fabricate appliances to realign teeth and jaws to produce and maintain normal function and to improve appearance.”
This special field of dentistry requires 4 years of dental school after the earning of a bachelor’s degree. Orthodontists must also be certified through the U.S. National Board of Orthodontics, which allows orthodontists to practice in the U.S. and requires orthodontists to stay up-to-date with the newest developments in their dental field.
Even if your experience with braces is long and arduous, your dental results will be truly worth it. From the practical to the cosmetic, orthodontists will continue to change people’s smiles – and lives – for the better.