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Orthodontics isn't just about achieving that perfect smile. The discipline, which focuses on how to move teeth safely and effectively into their proper place, plays a crucial role in overall oral health and well-being.

OCA infographic

Experts from the UAB School of Dentistry Department of Orthodontics say their specialty is about creating a healthy bite—straight teeth that properly meet opposing teeth in the opposite jaw.

Orthodontic treatment can help distribute the biting forces more evenly. Teeth that are properly aligned facilitate more effective chewing and speech. This can prevent problems related to digestion and communication that may arise from misalignment issues.

According to the American Association of Orthodontists, four million people in the U.S. need or already have braces and 65% of adults do not have well-aligned front teeth.

“Misaligned teeth can result in uneven wear on the teeth, which can lead to issues like tooth sensitivity, chips, and fractures,” says Chung H. Kau, B.D.S., M.Sc.D., Ph.D. “Overbites, underbites, crossbites, open bites, crowded teeth, and gaps between teeth are common issues that may warrant orthodontia.”

The most common orthodontic treatment is braces which entail metal or ceramic brackets attached to the teeth, connected by wires and bands. They allow the orthodontist to gradually move teeth into their desired positions.

According to Christos Vlachos, D.M.D., D.D.S., M.S., a variety of orthodontic treatments are available, beyond traditional braces, to address a wide range of oral health issues. These are tailored to specific patient needs.

“Clear aligners are a more recent alternative to traditional braces. These are a series of custom-made removable trays that fit over a patient’s teeth, gradually shifting them into place,” he says. “Orthodontists also use devices like headgear, space maintainers, and functional appliances that modify jaw growth to achieve optimal results.”

Orthodontics is part of comprehensive dental care. It complements other dental treatments and can be integrated with procedures like oral surgery for cases of severe jaw abnormalities or misalignment, as well as restorative dentistry to repair or replace damaged or missing teeth.

While individuals who are unhappy with the appearance of their smile may seek orthodontic treatment for cosmetic reasons, the discipline goes beyond aesthetics. Even if a patient’s dental issues are not causing functional problems, a straight, well-aligned smile can boost self-confidence and self-esteem. It can also have a positive impact on social and professional interactions. Feeling good about one's smile can lead to improved mental and emotional well-being.

“Accurately aligned teeth are easier to clean,” says Terpsithea (Teti) Christou, D.D.S., M.S. “This reduces the risk of oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease. It also decreases the likelihood of issues like cavities and plaque buildup.”

Christou says orthodontics also can help address a variety of other conditions.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can result from misaligned teeth and jaw problems. Orthodontic treatment can help correct jaw alignment issues and alleviate or prevent TMJ-related issues, such as jaw pain, headaches, and difficulty in opening and closing the mouth.

In some cases, orthodontic treatment can help address breathing difficulties that arise from jaw misalignment. This can be particularly important for individuals with obstructive sleep apnea or other respiratory problems. Orthodontic treatment may be part of a broader approach to addressing these concerns.

Certain speech difficulties can be linked to dental or jaw misalignments. Orthodontic treatment may help improve speech clarity and articulation.

“Everyone’s case is unique,” says Kau. “The decision to undergo orthodontic treatment should be made in consultation with a qualified orthodontic professional. They will assess your specific needs and create a personalized treatment plan to achieve the best possible results for your oral health and well-being.”

Candidates for orthodontic treatment can vary widely in age and specific needs. While there is no age limit, adolescents between ages 10 and 19 fall within the most common age group for orthodontic treatment. Adolescents have a mix of primary (baby) teeth and permanent teeth, making it a good time to address alignment issues.

However, Ejvis Lamani, D.M.D., Ph.D. says the ideal time to see an orthodontist is earlier than that.

“Your child should have a check-up with an orthodontist by age 7. Early intervention can help correct issues like crowding, crossbites, irregularities in jaw development, and thumb-sucking habits before they become more severe. Ultimately, detecting and addressing orthodontic issues early can lead to more effective and efficient treatment,” says Lamani.

A growing number of adults are pursuing orthodontic care to address long-standing issues or for cosmetic reasons. In fact, Nada Souccar, D.D.S., M.S. points out that individuals who have had orthodontic treatment in the past but have experienced a relapse (i.e., their teeth have shifted back) may benefit from further care.

“Advancements in orthodontic technology, such as clear aligners and less visible options like lingual braces, which use brackets hidden behind the teeth, have made orthodontics more accessible and discreet for adults,” Souccar says. “As long as your teeth and gums are healthy, age is not a barrier to orthodontic treatment. Many adults achieve successful outcomes from orthodontic care.”

In general, orthodontic treatment in adults may take longer compared to children and adolescents. This is because adult bones are less malleable, so tooth movement may be slower. After orthodontic treatment, wearing retainers is essential to maintain the new alignment of the teeth. This is true for both adults and younger patients.

The cost of orthodontics can vary depending on a patient’s treatment, the complexity of the case, and geographic location. Dental insurance may cover a portion of orthodontic treatment, so it's worth checking with your provider.

For children and adults alike, orthodontics is not just about achieving a beautiful, aesthetically perfect smile. It’s about ensuring the long-term health, functionality, and comfort of your teeth and jaws. After all, a healthy smile is priceless.

The UAB Orthodontic Clinic provides correction for teeth and jaws that are crowded, misaligned, or otherwise positioned incorrectly. Services include a full range of orthodontics, including treatment for cleft palate and temporomandibular (jaw) joint disorders, as well as Orthognathic (jaw) surgery. The fully equipped clinic is located on the 3rd floor of the School of Dentistry and boasts 17 newly operatories with digital photography, computer patient check-in and appointment management, and digital charts. Facilities also include a laboratory, a computer/video imaging room, digital radiology equipment, two state of the art CBCT Imaging Systems, and a 3dMD Surface Imaging System, as well as both intra-oral / extra-oral digital impression scanning technologies.

For more information and to make an appointment, call (205) 934-4536.