How Do Braces Work on Teeth?
Unless you’re very lucky (like me), most of us have had braces at one time or another in our lives.
Who doesn’t want a nice brilliant smile?
Getting braces can fix bigger problems that could affect you later in life too, like jaw alignment. But how does all that metal in your mouth really work?
In short, what braces do is apply pressure to the teeth to encourage them to move into the correct position inside the mouth.
Braces how they work?
Each tooth has a name, and charts of the correct position of each tooth are found all over the dentist’s and orthodontist’s office.
First, you’ll most likely have a consultation with your orthodontist – that’s someone who specializes in the structure of the mouth and moving your teeth to correct your jaw (and to give you some straight teeth, of course!).
For example, most of us have a slight or significant underbite or overbite. This is due to jaw misalignment, and braces will fix that!
Your orthodontist will also make sure you have a generally healthy mouth before your journey with braces begins. In other words, you can’t have a bunch of cavities or some infection of the mouth before you get your braces, so brush those teeth!
Most orthodontic patients are in their early teens, but nowadays it’s not uncommon for adults to get braces too.
Your orthodontist may choose to apply or adjust your braces in phases, or continuously – each case is individualized.
Why might someone need braces?
Some of it has to do with genetics; if crooked teeth run in your family, you might have crooked teeth too. If you sucked your thumb or pacifier a lot as a baby, this can affect how your baby teeth grow in.
So if you need braces, it’s not your fault!
Let’s look a little closer at the process. Before your braces are applied, you may have to have additional treatments first.
A good example of this is applying an expander. There are two kinds: the upper jaw and the lower jaw.
What does an expander do?
Let’s look at the upper jaw as our example.
An expander will stretch the bone and cartilage of the hard palate before it stops growing (ideally, it would be applied before the age of 14).
It prevents teeth from crowding and preps the mouth to have room for your braces. Metal rings are attached to the back molars.
The body of the expander, which will contain expansion screws, will stretch from ring to ring across the mouth.
As the screws are cranked, it’ll push on those back molars and stretch the soft cartilage of the palate over several weeks.
It’s common for patients to get a gap in their front teeth throughout this process – and that’s good!
This means the expander is working. But it sounds kind of painful!
So have ibuprofen on hand and some cold treats, like popsicles or ice cream. Most people will feel the pressure on the back molars and will feel some discomfort in their teeth, perhaps behind their nose and eyes, or in their temples. But this tenderness will go away eventually.
Once your mouth is prepped by the expander or any other equipment you may have needed, and the day arrives to get your braces put on, your orthodontist will first clean and polish your teeth so that those metal brackets have a nice clean surface to stick to.
Braces may look simple, but they’re made up of a few different parts that all work together:
* bonding material
* the bracket
* ligature elastics
* orthodontic bands (if you need them)
The bonding material helps each bracket stick to each tooth.
The archwire slides in between each bracket.
This connects the brackets and helps to pull the teeth together over time.
If you had an expander, your teeth are probably a little more spaced out than when you started, so something must pull those teeth back together into the desired position!
Braces Colors Ideas
Everyone can identify the ligature elastics because you can pick their color! I prefer purple, myself. These colorful elastics connect the brackets to the archwire.
They do a lot of the work in straightening your teeth, so they’re usually changed and tightened each time you visit your orthodontist.
Not everyone needs orthodontic bands, but if you do, they’re used to connect one bracket (or brackets) to another to pull certain teeth into alignment.
Each bracket has a tiny hook on it. Say you need a top tooth pulled in a certain direction. An orthodontic band would be hooked onto the bracket of the tooth in question and the band stretched down to and hooked on the bracket of a bottom tooth, acting as the anchor.
These are bands that you would change yourself, usually between meals. Your orthodontist or one of their aides should explain each part of the process to you, and may even have you practice in the office if you have to change any bands.
By the way, have you ever heard the Orthodontic Marching Band?
Well, brace yourself!
How does all this stuff straighten your teeth?
Well, it’s all about applying constant, but tolerable, amounts of pressure over time. Most of this pressure comes from the wire and ligature elastics, and the brackets hold it all in place during and after the teeth have moved.
That wire that connects your brackets plays a key role in moving your teeth; wire doesn’t generally like to bend, but the heat from your mouth makes the wire more flexible.
It’ll still want to stay straight, but be flexible enough to bend to your particular mouth shape. This is where a lot of the pressure comes from!
If you have a particularly complex case, that’s where those orthodontic bands come in – these will apply additional pressure and will provide extra help in moving more stubborn teeth.
Remember though, your teeth are bones, and you’re only seeing the tips of them – the rest of them are anchored in your gums, which are soft to allow movement.
Most of the hard work your braces are doing is being done under your gums! The pressure you feel on your teeth is also being applied to the periodontal membrane – the soft tissue underneath your gums.
One side of this membrane is softer than the other, allowing the teeth to move; the other side pushes back somewhat under the pressure, creating a perfectly balanced push-pull action that allows your teeth to move safely and effectively.
Besides a straight smile and proper jaw alignment, braces have another benefit. They make your teeth stronger!
Just like working out at the gym, your teeth get stronger as they withstand the pressure that’s being applied to them.
It also helps create new cells, which results in better bone density in your teeth.
This means they’ll have a stronger defense against any oral problems that may come along later, and will be less likely to move again after your braces come off, which is usually after about 18 months to 2 years.
Getting Braces Off
Alright, it’s now two years later, so what does happen when your braces come off?
Do the clouds open up, the sun shines down and the angels sing? Well, it might feel like that to you!
Your orthodontist will remove any extra bands, the wire, and the ligature elastics. Then he will just pop those brackets off with a little tool that kind of looks like pliers.
Your orthodontist will probably have you brush your teeth well right there in the office so that he or she can then try to remove any remaining bonding agent from your teeth.
It’s common to get a removable retainer after your braces come off – this little thing helps keep your teeth in place. There are permanent retainers too; they’re just a thin wire that would be glued on the inside of your top or bottom row of teeth.
If your retainer is removable, your orthodontist will tell you to wear it every day; down the line, you may just be able to wear it while you sleep.
Of course, keeping up your oral hygiene after your braces come off is huge: brush your teeth at least twice a day, use mouthwash, and floss.
The retainer itself should also be cleaned. If your retainer is removable, your orthodontist might let you pick the color!
All of this may seem overwhelming; that’s a lot of stuff in your mouth, right?
Braces aren’t generally considered a comfortable experience and require a lot of tolerance and work. You may experience headaches too, because of all the pressure on your teeth and jaw.
If you’re experiencing an abnormal amount of discomfort, talk to your orthodontist – you may be able to adjust your treatment in some way.
But just remember the many benefits of your braces!
The more hard work you put in, and the more you follow your orthodontist’s directions, the better your results will be!
Having braces is a brief journey, but in the end, there’s a straight smile for a lifetime waiting for you!
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