Dental Braces: How Does Treatment Work and What Do Braces Cost?
Dental braces are a type of orthodontic treatment used to correct teeth that are crowded, crooked, protruding, out of alignment or have irregular spacing. By moving the teeth into the ideal position, dental braces help to create a more attractive and healthier smile for both children and adults.
Before you can determine whether a braces option is right for you, it is important that you understand what is involved with treatment and what braces cost.
Are Dental Braces (and Straight Teeth) Necessary?
When teeth are crooked and crowded, keeping them clean becomes very difficult. If brushing and flossing cannot be completed properly, tooth decay, gum disease and possible tooth loss can occur.
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An improper bite can interfere with your ability to chew and speak properly, as well as cause abnormal wear to the enamel of your teeth. If your teeth are protruding and/or your upper and lower teeth don't come together comfortably (called malocclusion, or a bad bite), jaw problems also may arise.
Therefore, by keeping your teeth in the proper alignment and allowing better oral hygiene, dental braces do more than keep your smile looking good. They also help you keep your teeth, gums and oral cavity healthy. There is now evidence to prove that the periodontal infections resulting from poor oral hygiene can enter the blood stream and cause cardiac conditions.
What's Behind a Bite?
The most common oral health issue prompting orthodontic treatment is a bad bite (malocclusion). A malocclusion may be caused by one or more factors:.
- Small Mouth: A small mouth can result in a limited amount of space for the teeth to grow. This can foster crowding once the permanent teeth erupt.
- Tongue Thrusting: Some children thrust their tongue forward, pressing it against the lips with a force that can result in the protrusion of teeth, or "open bite," among other problems.
- Extra Teeth or Not Enough: Sometimes, a person can have extra teeth develop and/or protrude, or certain teeth that do not develop or protrude at all. If you have too many teeth or not enough, your bite can be affected. In addition, the untimely loss of baby teeth or traumatic injury to the face, mouth or jaw can also affect the bite.
- Misaligned Jaw and Bone Structure: A misaligned jaw or supporting bone structure can affect the bite and create malocclusion. Malocclusion may result in difficulty chewing and speaking, or otherwise impact the functionality of the teeth. Furthermore, malocclusion may contribute to other oral health conditions such as TMJ (TMD) and teeth grinding (bruxing).
- Poor Muscular Functional Habits: Malocclusion may be caused by poor muscular functional habits such as thumb sucking during and beyond infancy. Some adults still suck their fingers or thumbs, resulting in tongue thrust habits that can be a detriment to dental and facial development.
The Right Age for Dental Braces
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A person typically inherits tooth spacing, malocclusion, crowding, misalignment or similar problems from their parents. However, these conditions also may be caused by habits such as thumb-sucking, tongue thrusting, lip wedging, mouth breathing due to allergies or large tonsils and adenoids, premature loss of teeth or trauma, and generally begin to appear between the ages of six and 12 years old the time when the permanent teeth start to erupt.
Therefore, orthodontic treatment with dental braces should begin between the ages of eight and 14 in order to achieve optimal results. It is generally considered ideal to have an orthodontic evaluation no later than the age of seven, since this is when there is a good mix of primary (baby) and adult teeth in the mouth.
Also, dentists are better able to spot developing teeth and jaw growth at this time in a child's life. This enables them to anticipate problems that may arise and plan braces treatment accordingly.
Adults and Dental Braces
Children are not the only ones who may benefit from dental braces. Adults also can undergo orthodontic treatment with dental braces to correct alignment, spacing, crowding and malocclusion problems. The process for moving teeth is basically the same at any age, but the treatment may take longer for adults. This is due to the fact that adult facial bones are no longer growing, and certain corrections may not be possible utilizing braces alone. Depending on the specific type and severity of your alignment or malocclusion problem, tooth extraction or maxillofacial surgery may be required.
Dental Braces Materials
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Dental braces, also referred to as orthodontic appliances, typically consist of brackets and arch wires, as well as elastic ties that hold the arch wires in place.
Brackets: Brackets may be composed of metal, ceramic, composite or a combination of these materials. Today's brackets have come a long way from those of the past.
- Patients now can choose different bracket shapes and different color elastics.
- Gold-plated brackets are even available, as well.
- Today's brackets are much smaller than their predecessors and sometimes may be attached to the back of the teeth to make them less noticeable. Some do not require the old fashioned wire or elastic ties to hold the wires in place.
Arch Wires: Dental brace wires (arch wires) are attached to the brackets and apply constant pressure to the teeth to move them into the necessary positions. These wires retain their original shape, yet are extremely flexible. Like brackets, dental arch wires also are now made of newer materials that can reposition the teeth and underlying roots more readily and with less discomfort than in the past.
Dental Braces Specialists
Your family dentist will be the first to spot potential problems that might require braces correction, after which you'll likely be referred to an orthodontist. Orthodontists are dentists who undergo special training and work closely with your general dentist to provide you with the best results and oral health care.
To become an orthodontist, dentists must attend an additional full-time accredited orthodontic residency program. These programs are supervised by other orthodontists and typically last at least two academic years. Orthodontists receive specialized training in tooth movement and facial development, also referred to as dento-facial orthopedics. Once they complete this specialized education, orthodontists are considered the experts at straightening teeth and aligning jaws.
Non-orthodontists, such as those who undergo manufacturer-sponsored training programs in the use of braces alternatives such as Invisalign and Clear Correct aligners, also may provide types of limited orthodontic services.
Choosing an Orthodontist
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When choosing an orthodontist, it is important to ensure that he or she is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), and that they limit their practice to orthodontic treatments. By choosing such a practitioner, you can be sure that they are specialists in the field and have had at least the two years of additional training in a program accredited by the American Dental Association.
Your general dentist also may be able to provide orthodontic referrals to specialists he/she recommends for your treatment.
Dental Braces Cost
The cost of orthodontic treatment with dental braces is approximately $3,000 to $7,000. Your specific braces cost is determined by a variety of factors. These factors include the type of treatment, the duration of treatment, the orthodontist, location, your dental insurance and any other restorative work that may need to be completed prior to or throughout treatment.
Products such as Invisalign or Clear Correct may cost more than traditional braces, but they typically range from $3,500 to $6,000; the latter tending to be the national average cost. Costs vary due to the severity of the orthodontic problem, as well as the regional differences in fees.
Many orthodontists do provide flexible payments and plans to ensure that patients who need braces have the opportunity and ability to afford them. If you don't have insurance and your orthodontist does not offer financing, you may be able to enlist the services of a third-party financing company like CareCredit or Capital One.