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Orthodontics or “braces” are devices worn on the teeth to improve tooth alignment.  Orthodontics can be helpful for both children and adults.  Orthodontics can improve the function of your teeth and the appearance of your smile.  In most cases, orthodontics are worn for about two years.  Following orthodontic treatment, a retainer is worn to help teeth stay in their new positions.

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Orthodontics correct bite problems called malocclusions.  Examples of malocclusions include jaws that are out of alignment, missing teeth, crooked teeth, crowded teeth, and extra teeth.  Malocclusions can be inherited or caused by prolonged thumb sucking, trauma, and early or late loss of baby teeth. 
Ideally, children should be evaluated for orthodontics by the age of seven.  Youths between the ages of 8 and 14 are good candidates for orthodontics because their facial bones are still developing.  Adults may have to wear braces longer than youths do because their facial bones are intact.

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An orthodontist can evaluate you for orthodontics by conducting a thorough examination.  Tell your orthodontist about problems you have experienced and your desired outcome.  X-rays of your teeth and head will be taken.  Your orthodontist may take a panoramic X-ray to detail the full perspective of you teeth, gums, and jaw.  X-rays are painless procedures and simply require that you remain motionless while the images are taken.
“Before” treatment pictures will be taken of your face and teeth.  In addition to treatment planning, they are used to record and monitor your progress.  A mold will be made of your teeth.  The mold will serve as a basis for creating your custom made orthodontics.
After completing your evaluation, your orthodontist will discuss your treatment plan with you.  Your orthodontist will let you know what type of braces are most appropriate for you, the amount of time you should expect to wear them, and the expected outcome.  This is also a good time to discuss insurance coverage and financing.

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Orthodontic treatment is very individualized.  Each person’s treatment plan is unique and specific to him or her.  The type of orthodontics worn and the length of time that they are worn depend on several factors, including the complexity of your malocclusions.  Some people may need procedures prior to orthodontic application.  Such procedures may include tooth extraction or jaw surgery for severe bite problems.

There are a variety of orthodontic types to choose from.  Today’s braces are more discreet than ever before.  Orthodontics can be constructed of metal, clear plastic, colored plastic, or both.  In some cases, orthodontics can be attached to the back of the front teeth.  Some people may need to wear “mouth gear” or “head gear” to correct bite alignment.

Traditional orthodontics are attached to teeth with a bonding agent.  Your orthodontist will periodically monitor your progress and adjust your braces as needed.  You may experience temporary discomfort after your orthodontics are adjusted.

Be sure to follow your orthodontist’s instructions while wearing your braces.  Carefully clean and floss your teeth to avoid tooth decay.  Avoid chewing on sticky foods, such as gum and candy, and hard or crunchy foods to prevent breakage.  Wear a mouthguard during sports to prevent injuring your lips during impact.

When the desired result is achieved, the orthodontics are removed from your teeth.  Your orthodontist will take “after” treatment photos and make another mold of your teeth.  This mold is used to create your retainers.  Retainers are worn for various periods of time.  They help your teeth retain their new position once your braces are removed.

You can help achieve the best possible results in the shortest amount of time by carefully complying with your orthodontist’s instructions.  Make and attend all of your appointments.  Your commitment will result in a healthy smile.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit