We all think of braces as a way to achieve the perfect Hollywood smile, but it is actually about way more than that.Don't get me wrong, having a beautiful smile is extremely important. Studies have shown that a pretty smile can help you get a better job with higher pay, increase your self-esteem, deliver better first impressions, and improve your overall happiness. So, even if the only result of braces was a better smile, it would totally be worth it.
As a dentist, however, the main reason that I prescribe braces for my patients is that it sets them up for lifelong oral and systemic health.
The human jaw is capable of producing hundreds of pounds of force. Therefore, it is extremely important that the teeth be in the proper position to handle those forces everyday of your life for 90 years or more.
- The first way that braces accomplish this is to properly align the upper teeth to the lower teeth. In some cases, this needs to be done at an early age before certain growth milestones.I recommend that all of my patients see an orthodontist for a free consultation at the age of 7. At that appointment, they will take a cephalometric (ceph) x-ray which will determine whether the upper and lower jaws are in proper alignment.For some patients, early intervention in the form of headgear or rubber bands may be recommended.
- The next way that braces improve the position of your teeth is by widening your arches. The example that I give my patients is that of a wooden stool. If the four legs of the stool are close together, the stool would more easily tip over when compared with a stool where the four legs are spread out. In a similar fashion, our occlusion (how our teeth interact) is much better able to withstand the forces of our jaw when it has a wider form. Widening of the jaw arches is usually done through expanders. Your orthodontist will provide you with a key tool that will allow you to turn the expander every night before bed until the desired width has been achieved.
- Another way that braces set your teeth up for success is by uprighting any tipped teeth and by correcting any rotated teeth. Our teeth are very good at handling forces that are applied along their long axis. However, if a vertical pressure is applied to a tooth that is leaning, it causes the tooth to flex which over time will cause recession of the gum tissue, loss of tooth structure at the gumline, and bone loss around the tooth. The example that I share with my patients is if you have a nail which has been nailed into a wooden board at an angle, and then you hit the nail straight up and down, the nail is going to bend at its base and the wood will expand at the point that the nail enters the board.
- The final reason to get braces (and perhaps the most important) is that it puts the teeth in the ideal position for daily cleaning. The process of properly caring for your teeth and gums is a job that is never done. Twice a day, every day, for the rest of your life, you need to take a few minutes for some purposeful oral home care. This process is significantly easier and much more effective if the teeth are in proper alignment.
For some people with tooth crowding and/or tipping, the spaces between the teeth become so narrow that the toothbrush can't even reach certain parts of the teeth. In a similar fashion, flossing in some cases becomes nearly impossible. Also, in the unfortunate case where a dentist needs to do a filling or crown, those restorations have a higher rate of success and longevity when the teeth have an ideal relationship to the adjacent teeth.
Home Care With Braces:
While we are talking about home care, let's highlight how important it is to spend some extra time caring for your teeth and gums while you are in braces or Invisalign. With braces, there are just so many more things in your mouth that trap food, plaque, and bacteria. In order to properly address all the problem areas that are inherent with braces, I recommend that all of my patients buy a good electric toothbrush and the Slate Electric Flosser. When brushing, you need to brush the teeth once below the brackets, and again above the brackets making sure to massage the gums along the way. The Slate Electric Flosser makes flossing with braces easier and more convenient than any other product out there. The thin floss arm slips easily between the braces wire and the teeth. While the floss arms moves in and out, the blue bristles simultaneously brush the sides of the brackets, helping to prevent ugly white decalcification rings that can be present when braces come off.
When you're done flossing, turn the Slate Electric Flosser over and scrape your tongue. This will help to improve your breath while also getting rid of bacteria that can migrate to your teeth and gums to cause cavities and gum disease.
Invisalign & Clear Aligners
With Invisalign, home care is also extremely important. While wearing the clear aligners for 22 hours a day, your saliva is not able to clean and hydrate your teeth. So, it very important to brush and floss with the Slate Electric Flosser every time that you eat before putting your aligners back in. With both braces and Invisalign, cavities are extremely common following treatment.
These suggestions will help you prevent that after your braces come off.