Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that handles misaligned teeth and jaws. It covers the diagnosis, prevention, and correction of these problems so patients can enjoy better and more functional smiles. The American Academy of Orthodontics (AAO) notes orthodontia addresses dental and facial anomalies, but early diagnosis is preferred for better outcomes. Crooked teeth are not easy to clean, and they are susceptible to decay and periodontal disease. Failure to address these problems early on often means losing your teeth earlier than expected.

Edward Angle and Norman William Kingsley are heralded with pioneering this specialty, and it has since become mainstream helping millions of patients. One of the primary services at Washington Dental in California is orthodontics. We have prepared this guide so you can understand what the field entails and how we can help you.

How Can I Know if Orthodontic Treatment is Necessary?

Patients with crooked teeth that do not fit together or teeth that are not in the right place are great candidates for orthodontics. Perhaps someone will or has commented that your teeth do not look healthy or they are sticking out. A glance at your teeth in front of a mirror can tell you if something is amiss, but only a qualified dentist to examine your mouth.

The attending dentist or orthodontist will perform a comprehensive exam on your mouth and check relevant diagnostic tools such as your medical and dental health history, X-rays and photographs, and results from clinical reviews. Bring plaster models of your teeth if you have any so your dentist can make a proper diagnosis and start an appropriate treatment plan.

Orthodontist treatment for children is called interceptive orthodontics. Your child can start from around 6 or 7 years when the teeth are developing, and the jaw is growing. Going for regular checkups can negate many teeth problems that occur during teenage and adulthood, such as crowded teeth. If your child needs premature loss of teeth, retains their teeth, or is battling some dental ailments, bring them for an exam at Washington Dental.

What Dental Problems that Need Orthodontist Treatment?

Patients with the following teeth issues qualify for orthodontic treatment.

  1. Crowded Teeth

Crowding teeth occurs when there are more teeth than what the dental bridge can hold, forcing the teeth to bunch up, twist, and overlap. Some teeth may thrust forward or backward due to lack of room for growth, and this affects your smile and how the teeth function.

As well, crowded teeth can make oral hygiene a little complicated, and it becomes easier for plaque and other harmful bacteria to accumulate. Patients also suffer from tartar, and tooth decay is common, and tooth decay follows soon after. If you fail to see an orthodontist, crowded teeth can trigger many more problems over time.

  1. Overbite

An overbite or "buck teeth" is a form of malocclusion that occurs when the upper front teeth stick out above the lower teeth. When the overlap of the maxillary central incisors over the mandibular central incisors is enormous, the appearance of teeth is also not pleasing. It may attract some unwanted attention whenever you speak, and this will affect your self-esteem.

Some people inherit overbites while others get it due to a poorly formed jaw such that they do not grow normally. Childhood habits, like non-nutritive sucking behavior (NNSB) otherwise known as thumb-sucking and tongue-thrusting, can make the lower or upper jaw too underdeveloped. Pacifiers are yet another form of NNSB and as per the Journal of the American Dental Association; they are linked to higher malocclusions than thumb-sucking.

Extended bottle-feeding can also lead to poor development of the jaw, thus paving the way for an overbite by the time teenage, or young adulthood arrives. Missing teeth impacted teeth, or have extra teeth, tumors, and cysts are other risk factors for buck teeth.

Apart from chewing problems and aesthetics, overbites can breed a myriad of issues like speech impediments, deficient chewing, painful chewing, and trouble breathing. Some people do not correct buck teeth, but others do so to improve their appearance. Delaying treatment can lead to complications that can injure your gums or you accidentally bite your tongue. If you have buck teeth, you must see a qualified dentist for an examination.

The dentist will examine the position of both jaws, take dental X-rays, and make impressions so they can study the extent of misalignment. This information will help them determine the aptest remedy for your case. While we can treat overbites at any given time, it is best to address these issues at an early age before the jaws are fully developed.

Dental braces straighten teeth and are useful in correcting overbites, but it largely depends on the extent of the problem. Invisalign are clear plastic liners that are effective in gradually changing the position of teeth and eventually treating minor overbites. Severe overbites are not easy to handle. They may necessitate extracting some teeth to make ample room for the other misaligned teeth to position themselves correctly. Other cases may require surgical intervention to reposition the jaw, so the overbite is finally corrected.

  1. Underbite

An Underbite or prognathism is a form of malocclusion that happens where the lower teeth are too far ahead, or the upper ones sit way back. Such a bite is not healthy. Sometimes the two rows of front teeth may almost meet, and in severe cases, the gap is so broad that they do not meet at all.

The misalignment of the upper jaw is the primary cause of underbites, and this problem is present from birth. It can also happen among people with gigantism and people from certain ethnicities. Apart from being teased on the playground, people with underbites typically suffer from speech problems, and they have problems when eating. More so, they are prone to snoring, and they could suffer from chronic jaw pain (TMJ) not to mention breathing through the mouth.

Washington Dental advises patients to prioritize treating overbites, and parents need to be watchful over their children, so they detect such problems as they develop. There are two kinds of corrective appliances:

  • Upper jaw expander – this wire-frame device fits across the palate, and then a unique key widens the expander by a small degree each night. When this process is repeated each night for a year, it expands the upper jaw until the lower set of teeth does not close outside the upper ones. Once the job is done, patients start wearing a retainer and go for regular checkups.
  • Face mask in reverse – this mask looks like a brace headgear and goes around the patient's head pulling the upper jaw back into the appropriate place. This "reverse-pull" face mask is adjustable to fit the size of children, teens, and adults. It comes with hooks and straps that attach to the mouth and orthodontists advise patients to wear it for 12 to 22 hours per day as per their issue.

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons recommends orthognathic jaw surgery for patients with extreme underbites. The surgeon will separate the bone in the back part of the jaw from the front and then alter it, so the section carrying the lower front teeth are pulled back. 

It is paramount that patients uphold excellent dental hygiene even as they get these orthodontist treatments. Good oral health requires brushing and flossing every day and then rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash. Our professionals at Washington Dental has helped many patients with underbites to achieve beautiful smiles.

  1. Diastema

A diastema is a gap between teeth, and it is shared between the two upper front teeth. When the size of the jaw bones and teeth are mismatched, it can create additional space between teeth. If the teeth are too much smaller than the jaw bone, you end up with spaces between the teeth.

These gaps can be present between any two teeth, and spaces can happen due to many other reasons. For instance, missing or poorly-sized teeth can lead to a diastema that would necessitate orthodontist intervention, and this starts with a consultation to determine the extent of the issue.

  1. Openbite

An open bite refers to a situation where the upper and lower front teeth fail to meet when you close the mouth. There is a gap between the rows of teeth which is visible when someone smiles, and it can affect their speech. A person with an open bite can have a speech impediment or speak with a lisp where letter "s" is pronounced as "the" and the letter "z" is marked as "th."

  1. Crossbite

This malocclusion occurs when a tooth (or several) is closer to the tongue or cheek than the equivalent antagonist tooth in the upper or lower set of teeth. This misalignment of dental arches are visible when you close your mouth, as a few upper teeth are left sitting inside your lower teeth instead of sitting on the outside.

There are two kinds of crossbites: an anterior crossbite and a posterior crossbite. An anterior crossbite is where the top front teeth lie behind the lower front teeth, and this situation mimics an underbite, but they are different. A posterior crossbite, on the other hand, occurs when the upper teeth lie in front of your lower front teeth.

Crossbites are attributed to many factors, and most of them are linked to childhood. For instance, children who are fond of sucking their thumb or breathe through the mouth are prone to developing crossbites. Mouth breathing causes the tongue to shift away from the palate, and this interferes with the average lateral growth of the jaw.

Also, spending too much time between losing the milk teeth and permanent teeth can affect how the corresponding teeth meet if they meet at all. If the lower jaw bone is naturally more expensive than the upper jaw bone, you are likely to get a crossbite.

Having a crossbite not only draws unnecessary attention to your teeth, but it can lead to problems. A crossbite often leads to wearing down of the enamel, and they start chipping. Your gums may also begin receding. If the issue carries on, you may experience bone loss and relentless pain in the gums, which will interfere with eating.

No matter what caused the crossbite, Washington Dental has a variety of solutions that will help you achieve the correct bite and improve your smile significantly. What's more, correcting a crossbite saves you from uneven wearing down of teeth and secondary effects that can bring you discomfort. Your attending orthodontist will discuss the following options and determine which one suits you best:

  • Maxillary expander – this device widens the upper palate over several months
  • Braces – teens and young adults are suitable candidates for braces, so the crossbite is treated as the jaw develops
  • Removable expander – this device is ideal for adults as they can wear it to bed and then be appliance free at work or school
  • Surgery – in extreme cases, orthodontist surgeon will need to break the jaw bone accordingly, and then patients use post-surgery to widen then the upper palate

With all these viable options at your disposal, we highly encourage clients to come for an exam and so a qualified dentist can examine their crossbite. Failure to address this problem can undermine your teen's confidence as well as young adults in college or attending job interviews.

There are other reasons for getting orthodontist treatments such as misplaced midlines and spacing. We encourage patients to go for regular checkups, so teeth problems are detected early. Downplaying these appointments complicates things as small issues can morph into something more significant, which may require more extensive treatments.

Types of Orthodontic Treatments

It is possible to fix jaw and teeth problems like crowding, underbites, crossbites, and overbites. Nevertheless, we advise patients to ensure they go to seasoned professionals for these interventions. There are fixed and removable appliances to move teeth into the correct position, retrain your mouth muscles, and influence how the jaw develops.

Overall, these appliances exert moderate pressure on the teeth and jaws over several weeks or months until they achieve the desired effect.

Examples of fixed orthodontic appliances are as follows:

  1. Braces

Braces are the most widely used fixed appliances, and they have bands, wires, and brackets that work together to achieve the right alignment of teeth. Bands are fixed around the affected teeth and used as anchors for the appliance. The brackets are attached to the front of the tooth, and the archwires pass through the brackets. These brackets are then linked to the bands.

The dentist will tighten the archwire to exert tension on the teeth to move them to their proper position. Braces are usually adjusted every month until you attain the desired outcomes. Be prepared as the duration lies in the spectrum of a few months to a few years. Today's braces are smaller, lighter, and show far less metal than in the past. They come in bright colors for kids as well as clear styles preferred by many adults.

  1. Headgear

This appliance comes with a strap for placing around the head and then hooked to a metal wire at the front. Wearing a helmet makes the upper jaw to grow at a slower rate and steadily hold the back teeth as it pulls the front teeth backward.

  1. Special Fixed Appliances

These devices are used to control childhood habits like thumb sucking or thrusting the tongue, and they are attached to the teeth by bands. The only downside is that wearing select fixed appliances makes eating uncomfortable during meals, and therefore, it is best only to use it as a last solution.

  1. Aligners

Aligners are a series of tight-fitting mouthpieces that slip over your teeth so they can get into the right position over time. They are a great alternative to traditional braces that are common with teens and young adults. You get to move teeth into their correct position without having to spot a "brace face" whenever you smile. These aligners are nearly invisible, and you can remove them when taking meals and performing your oral hygiene regimen.

Clients usually prefer clear aligners as they are more discreet, and they make it easier to brush your teeth and floss daily. Nonetheless, this option is not suitable for all. Your dentist will recommend what options are best depending on your case. Washington Dental has treated many clients who needed aligners to correct some form of malocclusion, and they achieved terrific results.

We can show you before and after images of patients who had different teeth and jaw problems, and they eventually had them corrected. This treatment depends on how much movement your teeth need to solve the problem entirely. Extremely crooked teeth and bad bites require more extensive procedures, and it takes anywhere between 10 and 24 months to treat the issue.

On the bright side, moderate shifting of teeth since teenage may require just about ten months to correct the bite. The orthodontist will plan your treatment and fit different versions of aligners that will shift your teeth over several months. You will go for an exam every four weeks and get a new set of aligners so your teeth can continue moving as desired.

Please note, aligners are tailor-made to fit, so they are not ideal for children.

  1. Removable Space Maintainers

Space maintainers are made from an acrylic base that is fitted over the jaw, and they have plastic branches between specific teeth to keep this space open. Removable and fixed appliances do the same job, but your dentist will recommend which ones are most befitting in your case.

  1. Jaw Repositioning Appliances

Patients wear these appliances on the top or bottom jaw to gradually train it to the correct position. Orthodontists usually use jaw repositioning appliances for patients with temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ).

  1. Palatal Expander

This device is a plastic plate that fits on the roof of the mouth, and it is used to expand the arch on the upper jaw. Your age and reason for treatment are critical factors for taking this approach. Palatial expanders are used when correcting crossbites and eliminating or reducing crowding.

They also enhance breathing, so the child is not forced to breathe through the mouth all the time. As we mentioned previously, mouth breathing has its adverse effects too.

  1. Surgical Assistance

Surgically assisted rapid palatal expansion (SARPE) is a more extreme intervention where orthodontic treatment and surgery are used. Patients who need additional extension than what other appliances can achieve take this route.

Custom appliances must be made before surgery. The surgeon will fracture the upper jaw by cutting it at several places inside the bone to separate the upper jaw into movable segments. This procedure helps the bone to grow in between when the appliance is activated after surgery.

  1. Removable Retainers

These appliances are worn on the roof of the mouth to stop teeth from moving, and they are also useful in preventing non-nutritive sucking behavior such as thumb sucking. Growing children who have these habits benefit from removable retainers, so they do not suffer from malocclusions in their teenage years.

  1. Lip and cheek bumpers

These devices keep the cheeks or lips away from the teeth, so they do not exert undue pressure on your teeth. Patients who are undergoing some form of orthodontist treatment can have these bumpers to alleviate the stress, so they do not experience pain.

Find an Orthodontist Near Me

There are various forms of malocclusions that affect people from childhood, teenage, and adulthood. Openbites, underbites, overbites, crowded teeth, and other teeth problems impact how the teeth function. Moreover, they affect the appearance of your smile and can dampen your self-esteem, making you anxious about social situations.

Washington Dental  has a team of highly qualified dentists and orthodontists who treat all kinds of teeth and jaw problems. If you have any of the above issues, we recommend you come for a thorough exam so we can determine what the problem is and devise a befitting treatment plan. Our practice has offices in Los Angeles, Carson, Torrance, and Lomita. Please visit the office nearest to your location for a consultation with a qualified orthodontist.