Orthodontics Isn't Just A Pretty Smile

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Orthodontic treatment should optimize aesthetics, overall oral health, mouth function and long-term stability.

Orthodontics is about more than a mouth full straight teeth.

Orthodontic treatment should optimize aesthetics, overall oral health, mouth function and long-term stability, Medical College of Georgia orthodontists say.

The first step in achieving a perfect smile is identifying problems, according to Dr. Eladio DeLeon, Marvin Goldstein Chair of Orthodontics at MCG.

Those can range from abnormal jaw growth to severely crowded teeth to a simple malocclusion, or bad bite. But the focus is on the individual, not the teeth, Dr. DeLeon says.

"So much of what orthodontists do for people is about aesthetics and we realize that's subjective to what they think is beautiful," Dr. DeLeon says. "We realize that a smile has a great impact on someone's life. We can help patients make sure that the teeth and jaws have full function and help them change what they don't like at the same time."

There's no perfect age to start that change, he says. Even though most young children will not need early treatment, they should have an orthodontic evaluation before age 7, according to the American Association of Orthodontists.

Some may benefit from interceptive treatments such as expansion of a narrow upper jaw, the breaking of bad oral habits and space management to ensure adequate space for the permanent teeth, Dr. DeLeon says.

"Starting early may head off a major problem and that is key for many young patients."

Habits like lip-biting, tongue-thrusting, mouth-breathing and thumb-sucking can impair oral and facial development, so parents can help identify and avoid problems.

Since adolescents are still growing age 9 to 16 is an optimal time to correct orthodontic problems. But the age varies with each individual, orthodontists say.

And braces aren't just for kids.

"We have� seen a great increase in adults seeking orthodontic treatment. A lot of young adults are realizing the impact of a great smile and deciding to seek treatment. It's an important quality at every age," Dr. DeLeon says. "Tooth movement on adult patients may add new challenges because the teeth are less pliable, but a coordinated treatment approach with a general dentist can manage those challenges."

For some people, treatment is easier than ever thanks to innovative brackets designs, light wire technology, brackets that can attach to the back of teeth, and clear, tooth-moving, removable appliances. But patients must be evaluated individually to determine the best treatment.

"For example, if a patient's treatment is complex, we may not recommend something like a clear, removable appliance," Dr. DeLeon says. "We have to go on a case-by-case basis and make sure we communicate with our patients about what treatments will help us best achieve their goals."

Most patients� - adolescents and adults� - wear braces 12 to 24 months, depending on the complexity of the problem, he says. This extended treatment time can be frustrating for adults, who often balance work schedules with appointments. But complying with instructions is vital in minimizing treatment time.

Orthodontic treatment is a huge commitment for patients but most do quite well, Dr. DeLeon says.

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"Patients with brackets also have a responsibility to avoid things like hard candy, which can be difficult," he says. "Hard, sticky candy can break brackets, bend wires and contribute to cavities. Good hygiene also is a must before, during and after treatment."

Even when active treatment is over, patients must stay committed to maintain their beautiful smile.

"Compliance is critical," Dr. DeLeon says. "Patients have to wear their retainers on their orthodontist's recommended schedule, which is different for everyone."

Patients are monitored during this period, but noncompliance may cause teeth to shift.

The end result, when patients follow their orthodontist's plan, is usually a long-term stability of their beautiful, functional smile, he says.

"For some people with significant problems, it's an extreme makeover," Dr. DeLeon says. "It has a tremendous positive impact on quality of life and people tend to smile more often. Straight teeth not only help people effectively bite, chew and speak, but a beautiful smile is a wonderful added benefit."

Orthodontic check list :

  • Parents should watch their children for habits such as tongue-thrusting, lip-biting and thumb-sucking, which can impair oral and facial development.

  • Children should have an orthodontic evaluation by age 7.

  • Some orthodontic problems are inherited (crowded teeth, excess space between teeth, protruding teeth, extra or missing teeth and jaw growth problems, etc.) and some result from things like thumb- or finger-sucking, mouth breathing, dental disease, abnormal swallowing, poor dental hygiene, the early or late loss of baby teeth, accidents or poor nutrition.

  • The average cost for comprehensive orthodontic treatment in the Augusta area is $4,000-$6,000. Treatment by an orthodontic resident may be less expensive.

  • Innovative treatments include brackets that attach to the back of teeth, light wires and clear, tooth-moving, removable appliances. Some treatments may not be appropriate for all patients.

  • The average length of treatment is one to two years.

  • Orthodontic treatment is viable for almost any adult. It's never too late to get braces. Changes in tongue position and bite as well as natural changes in the musculature of your face as you age can sometimes cause teeth to shift.

  • Talk with your orthodontist about your idea of the perfect smile to develop realistic and achievable results.

What is an orthodontist?

  • Like a cardiologist or a neurologist, orthodontists have extensive specialized training. They are qualified dentists with at least two years of full-time advanced training from an accredited program.

  • They are specialists dedicated to correcting misaligned teeth and jaws, commonly referred to as a malocclusion or bad bite.

  • Orthodontists may work with oral surgeons to surgically correct extreme jaw problems or extractions for patients with severely crowded teeth.

  • They can provide information about orthodontic treatment, types of orthodontic appliances, length of treatment and realistic and achievable treatment goals.
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