Orthodontic treatment can work miracles in transforming smiles but it may take up to two years, sometimes more, depending on how severely a person’s teeth are out of alignment. For some individuals that’s a long time to commit to traditional braces made out of metal, a material that’s hard to conceal. Fortunately, there are several less obtrusive alternatives. Clear ceramic braces are one of them.
Like traditional metal braces, ceramic ones consist of tiny brackets that are attached to teeth for the duration of treatment, with arch wires threaded through them to apply controlled pressure that maneuvers teeth into the desired alignment. The primary difference between the two is that the ceramic brackets blend in with the color of your teeth so only the thin arch wires are visible. Another point of comparison is durability. Dietary discretion is recommended with all dental braces because hard, chewy and sticky foods can damage and dislodge brackets and arch wires. Careful consumption is even more important with ceramic brackets because that material is less resistant than metal to certain stresses.
Clear ceramic braces should not be confused with Invisalign® clear aligners, another option for more discrete orthodontic treatment. The latter is a system of removable clear plastic trays that are used in succession to gradually align teeth. A third option is lingual braces, which are attached to the back, or tongue side, of teeth, instead of the front.
Fixed braces tend to be the most efficient for achieving complicated tooth movements like pivoting or rotating teeth. Rubber bands (elastics) and/or head gear may be used as well for applying additional force. Fixed braces can also be a more affordable option than clear aligners because the individual components used in braces do not have to be custom-made, as is the case with clear aligners.
Orthodontic treatment is commonly provided by an orthodontist, a dental specialist with advanced training in the diagnosis and treatment of malocclusions (bad bites) and the growth and development of teeth and jaws. General dentists with additional training can also provide certain orthodontic treatment. Your orthodontist or dentist will use photos of your smile and bite, radiographs (x-rays), precise models of your teeth, and sometimes computer imaging, to plot how your treatment will unfold.
All orthodontic appliances work because of “remodeling” processes that naturally occur in the jaw bone and other living tissues surrounding teeth. Here’s where a little anatomy is helpful… Each tooth is suspended in its own socket in the jaw bone by elastic periodontal (“peri” = around; “dont” = tooth) ligaments. The ligaments allow teeth to move in their sockets in response to pressure. Bone that is ahead of the moving tooth is resorbed by the body, while bone is added on the “tension” side behind the tooth.
Although pressure is routinely applied to teeth during normal function, such as eating and swallowing, these forces come from multiple directions and are short in duration, which is why teeth pretty much stay where they are. The arch wires used with braces also apply light pressure, but it is constant and controlled to direct tooth movement in a predictable manner. Teeth that move into optimal alignment can also move back out of it. Therefore, a retainer device is prescribed after all orthodontic treatment to ensure that teeth stabilize in their new position.
The primary reason that people seek orthodontic treatment is the transformative effects it can have on their appearance, and consequently their self-image and self-confidence. A winning smile makes a great first impression. There also can be functional benefits such as improved overall bite, better oral hygiene efficiency, and even improvement of certain speech impediments.
Because braces can’t be removed for eating, brushing and flossing, extra diligent dental hygiene is imperative. Acid from food, drink, and the byproduct of oral bacteria feeding on food particles left in the mouth can promote “de-calcification” of the tooth surfaces. This is a loss of the mineral calcium from the enamel coating that protects teeth. De-calcification, which appears as white spots that form around the braces, represents the beginning phase of tooth decay. Limiting consumption of sugary and acidic foods and beverages is also important to protect against enamel erosion.
A less common hazard is root resorption, a blunting of the ends of tooth roots that actually makes teeth shorter. Although the exact cause hasn’t been determined, it is thought to be partly genetic. Excessive force applied to the teeth seems to increase the chances that it will occur. But don’t let that stop you from seeking orthodontic treatment. Root resorption can be watched for and monitored through x-rays during treatment so appropriate steps can be taken to intervene.
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