Braces and Orthodontia

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A Quick Intro and Answers for Common Questions

Orthodontics is the branch of dental science focused on correcting and preventing misalignment of teeth. Orthodontists are dentists who use braces or other means to help ensure your teeth are correctly aligned. Many people have teeth that are naturally straight and fit together well. However, those with problems such as an overbite or teeth that are too far apart may need help from an orthodontist. If you need to know if insurance will pay for orthodontia, see "Does dental insurance cover braces?"

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Orthodontic Devices

Orthodontists are commonly associated with braces and other devices applied to the teeth. These devices may be used to:

  • Straighten crooked or misaligned teeth
  • Correct problems related to the way teeth come together ("bite")
  • Close any gaps between teeth
  • Ensure the lips and teeth are properly aligned

Children are not the only patients receiving orthodontic treatment. Adults may also receive braces and successfully address misaligned teeth or other problems. The American Association of Orthodontists estimates nearly one-in-three (27 percent) of orthodontic patients in the U.S. and Canada are adults.

There is an urgency to children receiving orthodontic care to help ensure the jaw grows properly. When the jaw grows as expected, permanent teeth have a better chance of growing into place correctly. Having properly aligned permanent teeth can also help to prevent future oral health problems that can negatively affect appearance as well as eating habits.

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Orthodontic Headgear

Braces alone may not always be enough to treat the way teeth and jaw are growing within a patient. For these situations, orthodontists may recommend wearing orthodontic headgear. People wear this type of device outside of the mouth to provide added traction. Headgear can help move teeth into a better position and keep them from shifting. Orthodontic headgear is typically worn while at home, such as in the evening or while sleeping.


A retainer is a custom-made orthodontic device holding teeth in a desired position. Retainers may be either fixed in place on the teeth or removable. People usually wear a retainer after the conclusion of treatment with braces. More rarely orthodontists prescribe them to treat teeth without the prior use of braces. Whether used alone or with braces, retainers help keep teeth correctly positioned. They are typically made of plastic or rubber and have metal wires that cover the teeth. For post-braces care, patients should wear their retainer at all times for the first six months, then usually only while sleeping.

Pros and Cons of Invisalign Braces

People who need braces but dislike the appearance of traditional metal braces may consider alternative orthodontic treatment such as Invisalign. Invisalign straightens teeth using clear, removable aligners that are virtually undetectable when worn. Invisalign has several benefits and drawbacks to consider before initiating treatment.


Appearance. Even before the Invisalign treatment is completed, improvements will be visible through the clear aligners. With each set of aligners, teeth gradually shift into place, so smile improvements will be more and more noticeable at each stage of treatment.

Cost. The price of clear aligners like Invisalign can be substantially less expensive than traditional braces. According to Consumer Affairs, the cost of metal braces averages from $5,000-$6,000. Clear aligners, in comparison, may cost as little as $1,000 to $3,000.

Freedom to Remove Braces. Invisalign aligners are removable so they can be removed to eat, floss, and brush teeth. Almost every other type of orthodontic braces risks tooth decay with respect to food getting trapped within the orthodontia.

Comfort. The impressions made by an orthodontist to create an aligner is not painful. The use of smooth plastic reduces the probability of the gum and cheek irritation that can accompany metal braces.

Invisibility. Perhaps the most obvious benefit of Invisalign is a cosmetic: Invisalign braces are clear and may go unrecognized and certainly are less conspicuous than traditional metal or wire-on-plastic braces.

Turnaround Time. Orthodontists may be unable to accurately forecast the duration of conventional braces treatment because they lack a reliable model for the patient' s teeth movement. Invisalign treatment, in contrast, includes a pre-planning phase enabling an orthodontist to accurately project treatment time. This time may be equal to or less than experienced with regular braces. Several studies have shown Invisalign treatment time to be quicker than that of traditional orthodontic braces; however due to insufficient clinical research, the validity of this has been debated within the medical community.

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Easy to Lose. Removability is one of the aligners' best qualities but this convenience is a double-edged sword. Since the Invisalign braces are easy to take out, it is equally easy for patients to misplace them just as it is easy to misplace a retainer after the completion of traditional braces. When signers are lost, replacements will need to be made.

Not an Option for Every Patient. Invisalign is not appropriate for every orthodontic condition, especially for patients needing major teeth adjustments. Due to its design, there are some limitations on what Invisalign aligners can accomplish.

Discomfort During Alignment. The gradual re-alignment of teeth with Invisalign is as uncomfortable as it is with traditional braces.

Commitment to Treatment. The success of Invisalign aligners is dependent on the patient's commitment to the required treatment schedule. The process requires a series of aligners to be worn for a set amount of time. If a patient fails to follow the treatment schedule for a set of aligners then the subsequent aligners will not fit properly. If this occurs, a new set of aligners will be needed to resume Invisalign treatment.

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