Not every child grows up to have perfect teeth; there are a lot of things that can affect the alignment of your teeth, from genetic factors to sucking your thumb. Whatever it was that caused the misalignment of your teeth, it may be possible to fix the problem or to correct it to an extent using braces. Both children and adults can have braces fitted to their teeth, and it is estimated that over 200,000 people per year start to have treatment to fit these devices. If you have been advised that you may need to have braces, then you might be interested in finding out all about braces.
What are braces?
The word braces is an umbrella term which can be given to any device which is used to help to realign or straighten the teeth, whilst also promoting positive oral health. Braces normally apply a safe amount of pressure to the teeth over time, to help to move them into the desired position. This can be done by either pushing or pulling on the teeth using specially designed devices. It is important that the movement is done very gradually, or else it can have a negative effect on your teeth, bones and gums.
Most brace wearers have to visit their orthodontist every few weeks so that they can have their braces adjusted. This allows the braces to place continued pressure on the teeth to guide them in the desired direction, without putting too much pressure on them in the first instance. Although types of braces have been in use for millennia, recent leaps forward in dental technology now mean that some types of braces are barely even visible, unless you know that they are there! Braces no longer have the same sort of social stigma attached to them as they once did, because many people realise the positive effect that they have.
Why do people have braces?
All orthodontic brace treatments are designed to help you to make the most of your teeth by returning them to a more natural alignment. Correct dental alignment is not just important for cosmetic reasons. Misaligned teeth can cause you to bite down in an unusual way, which can place undue stress on your jaw. This can actually cause a wide range of different issues, from jaw ache to headaches.
Correcting a misalignment, straightening a crooked tooth, or closing up a gap between your teeth can also make it much easier for you to care for your teeth and gums. Although braces may seem as though they are an inconvenience at the time, you are likely to be happier and healthier once the final result of the braces can be seen.
Is there a good time to get braces?
As mentioned above, both adults and children can get braces, although the majority of people get them when they are a young teenager. Due to changes in the mouth, this is the optimal time to get them; any younger and the mouth is still changing too quickly; any older and the problems are much harder to treat. Adults are more likely to need an additional surgery to be able to achieve the desired effect. Socially, adult braces are also less widely accepted than braces are on teenagers. This means than adults often end up spending much more, as their treatment takes longer and they feel more inclined to choose an inconspicuous type of brace.
How long do braces need to be worn for?
The length of time that a person will need to wear braces for can very much depend on the type of braces that they choose and what condition needs to be corrected. Fixed wire braces are normally fastest at correcting a problem. In general, correcting an overbite will normally take about 18 months to two years, although it can take more time in extreme cases. The process is very slow because attempting to move the teeth too quickly can result in permanent damage to the teeth, gums and jaw bone.
Most people with braces will be expected to attend an orthodontist appointment once every four to six weeks. At these appointments, the orthodontist will check that the teeth are moving as expected, and they may make changes to the levels of tension in the braces, so that they continue to guide the teeth in the expected direction.
What types of braces are available?
In the United Kingdom, two main types of braces are used: “Wired” braces and “Aligner” braces.
Wired braces have been used for a very long time, although technology has been continuously improving over this time. These braces normally consist of brackets, bonding materials, arch wires and special elastics. The wires are normally held on to the brackets with the elastics. If the misalignment requires a major correction it is most likely that the wired brace will be a fixed brace. Fixed braces cannot normally be removed, except by a dental professional. Removable wire braces are available to treat some issues. It is possible that a patient may have to wear a removable brace for a while after their fixed brace is taken out.
Clear wired braces are designed to blend in with the teeth more, either by being a similar colour to the teeth, or by being made out of a see through material. Clear braces take on a similar form to traditional wired braces but they have been designed to be harder to see. Depending on what needs correcting, it is also possible to get braces which sit behind the teeth, rather than in front of them. This means that no one needs to know they are there, except for you.
Aligners are made of plastic which has been specially molded to fit precisely on to the patient’s teeth. They apply force to the teeth in a similar way that traditional wired braces do. In some cases, aligners only need to be worn for short periods each day (or at night time) and therefore they are not inconspicuous, however many people have to wear their aligners all day. These aligners are normally made of see-through plastic which is virtually unnoticeable. Aligners tend to cost more than wired braces, and are normally only suitable for less severe cases.
How to get braces in the United Kingdom
Braces are available from NHS dentists and from private dentists, although there are certain restrictions on who can access this service from the NHS. Orthodontic brace treatments are available for free on the NHS for anyone under the age of 18 who is judged to need it. Some adults may also be able to access a heavily subsidised service, although this is only available for adults who have genuine oral health issues, rather than those who are wishing to correct a minor cosmetic imperfection.
At present, adults who are eligible to receive treatment on the NHS must pay a “complex dental treatment” fee of around £220. If you are accepted as a patient on the NHS, you may have to go on a waiting list before your treatment can begin. On the other hand, private treatment is widely available. The British Orthodontic Society suggests that fees for standard braces should be less than £2500, although this figure is a guideline only. Many private dentists will charge more than this. One of the benefits of choosing private orthodontic treatment is that you are able to make far more decisions about the braces that you have, including whether you would like clear braces or invisible aligners. Almost all of the braces which are fitted on the NHS are traditional wire braces.
Oral health with braces
Although braces are designed to improve your oral health, you need to maintain a thorough dental care routine if you want to avoid the negative health effects which can be associated with wearing braces. When you have your braces put in, your orthodontist should take the time to explain proper brace care to you. They will also check to see whether there are any problems when you have your regular check-ups with them. If you need any special help or equipment, they will normally be able to supply you with it, so that you can take charge of your own oral health.
If your brace is a removable one, make sure that you take it out and clean it regularly to ensure that there is no food or bacteria on it. When you first have your brace put in, you may need to think more carefully about what you eat. For example, it is not a good idea to eat sticky toffees or to chew chewing gum if you have a brace.
If you have any further questions about braces, then your dentist or orthodontist would be happy to discuss them with you. Most people who have just found out that they need braces are filled with questions which are unique to their own situation. These are the types of questions which are best discussed with someone who has already looked at your teeth.