Braces – Not Just for Kids!
The use of metal braces as orthodontic interventions has become common in modern times, with new technologies and evolving practices assisting us in achieving a straighter and more functional bite. Metal braces have become commonplace, but did you know that humans have been attempting to align teeth since as early as 1000 BC? Early examples of this were seen in Greece where deceased bodies were seen to have an appliance inserted into the mouth that covered all of the teeth much like a bite guard would. Their interest in the teeth of the deceased was likely to have less to do with straightening the teeth, and more with preventing the teeth from falling inward as the body began to decompose – likely a desire brought about as a result of religious belief.
Later, Romans would document their attempts to correct the alignment of the teeth – a practice which used anything from gold wire to the brute force of a ‘dentist’s’ bare hand. Developments in these processes were negligible for many centuries, until French documents began to show some procedural advancement in the 18th century.
Early attempts at straightening teeth in France were not much different than the Greek bite guards and worked more to keep the teeth in place rather than moving them into alignment. Halfway through the 18th century, however, Pierre Bourdet identified a common cause of malocclusion (crooked teeth). He understood that due to their size and complexity, wisdom teeth were often the culprit for teeth shifting out of alignment in the mouth as the jaw struggled to accommodate their space requirements. With that, he began removing wisdom teeth to prevent this problem – something modern dentists are still in the practice of doing (with modern anesthetic and reliable tools!).
The next century would see changes to the orthodontic approach, including wire cribs that would bind each set of two teeth together in an attempt to keep them from shifting. Wires were used until the 1970s when dentists became more able to access reliable bonding compounds, making it far easier to attach the teeth to the arch wire used to put pressure on the teeth.
How Do Braces Work?
Outside of loose teeth wiggled away to be traded with the tooth fairy, it is hard to image that teeth could be moved given their strength and stability in a healthy mouth. The truth is, however, that your teeth are living parts of your body with a biological profile that includes hard tissues such as bone, dentin and enamel, and soft tissues including the ligament that helps to anchor the tooth into the bone socket.
The truth is, your teeth and jaw are pretty amazing. The teeth have a great degree of adaptability which allows them to be moved at all and your jaw takes signals from the teeth and adapts along with it to keep the process of alignment moving along until they have reached their ideal position. Orthodontists use what we know about the adaptability of these structures and use it to their (and your) advantage!
Modern metal braces typically use brackets and wires to guide your teeth into place using pressure. The teeth have brackets mounted on each of them with a dental cement that is durable and safe for the surface of the teeth. Once these brackets are in place, a metal arch wire is attached to the brackets with the help of elastics (though some braces are now elastic-free). An arch wire on the top and bottom of the mouth exerts pressure on the tooth in the direction of the desired position. As pressure is exerted, the sockets which hold the teeth in place begin to wear away on the side receiving the pressure. Slowly, the erosion allows the tooth to drift away from the pressure as the ligament allows some flexibility while maintaining stability within the socket. As bone is worn away on one side, the opposing side of the socket is reinforced with the minerals required to build bone in its wake. The result is a very slow migration of the teeth into the perfectly aligned smile of your dreams!
The process of alignment correction with orthodontics is typically between one and three years, and regular adjustments every few weeks are necessary to maintain adequate pressure as the teeth progress in their journey.
Are Braces Just for Kids?
Since we see adolescents wearing braces so frequently, it could be easy to think that braces are just for kids – but that is not the case. In fact, advancements in orthodontic technology such as the introduction of clear aligner technology (Invisalign®) has meant that more adults than ever are wearing Invisalign® in Edmonton! Where the aesthetic of metal braces might have stood in the way of adult professionals opting to begin the process, aligners have alleviated that concern by offering a solution that is near invisible. But it isn’t just tooth alignment that requires patients to consider braces. In fact, braces are used to treat a number of concerns in the mouth and jaw.
Reasons to Get Braces
Tooth spacing and crowding are resolved using braces which helps evenly distribute the teeth along the dental arches, but the relationship between the upper and lower teeth are also addressed by your orthodontist. The way that the teeth meet with the jaw closed has a large impact on the comfort and effectiveness of each bite. Bite classification is one way of determining the quality of the bite. Class I bites are in ideal alignment, while class II and class III bites indicate the degree to which an overbite or underbite are present. If the lower jaw is positioned too far back, the result is an overbite while a jaw positioned too far forward when closed indicates an underbite.
Many conditions can result from a poorly aligned jaw, including concerns such as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can result from poor tissue placement which causes snoring or open mouth breathing. Proper jaw alignment can also have an impact on the ability to articulate and as a result braces can be part of a speech therapy protocol. Other concerns helped by improving bite alignment include temporomandibular pain caused by bruxism (clenching or grinding the teeth at night) and even gum disease can be resolved with braces!
Braces for a Healthier Mouth
If you struggle with gum disease or its nastier cousin, periodontal disease, it might surprise you that crooked or crowded teeth could be a contributing factor. Since crowded teeth offer hiding places for plaque, food debris and the resulting acids as the food is consumed by bacteria, straightening the teeth can expose more of the tooth’s surface for easy brushing and flossing. As much as 40% of the tooth’s surface is concealed where it meets the next tooth – that means that brushing your teeth only allows you to access 60% of the tooth with a toothbrush. In a crowded tooth scenario, this number could increase. Regardless of the alignment of the teeth, however, a good hygiene regimen is key to keeping gum disease at bay. Brushing daily, or every meal, is a great habit – but the importance of flossing should never be overlooked. These hygiene basics are your best bet to a long and happy relationship with your teeth.