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The Basics on Braces

Few people have perfectly aligned teeth.

What is Orthodontics?

Orthodontics is the area of dentistry that focuses on the diagnosis, supervision, guidance, and correction of irregularly aligned teeth and related jaw and facial structures. Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics is the formal name of the specialty. Treatment involves removable or fixed appliances and may include brackets, bands, wires and/or elastics to provide the necessary movement of your teeth. These appliances are commonly referred to as "braces". In addition, clear aligners can also be used to move teeth.

Why Do Teeth Need Braces?

Occlusion refers to the alignment of teeth and the way that the upper and lower teeth fit together (bite). An orthodontic problem is referred to as a malocclusion, meaning a "bad bite" when the teeth are not properly aligned. Malocclusions can either be inherited or acquired. Inherited malocclusions include crowded teeth, large gaps between teeth and extra or missing teeth. Acquired orthodontic problems can result from repetitive behaviors such as thumb or pacifier sucking, an accident, and baby teeth that fall out too quickly or stay in too long. Treating moderate to severe malocclusion can:

  • Make it easier to clean teeth
  • Decrease the risk of tooth decay and periodontal diseases
  • Reduce the strain on the teeth, jaws and muscles, which lessens the risk of breaking a tooth and potential jaw pain

When Should Braces Be Applied?

If needed, orthodontic treatment can be provided at almost any age and can be beneficial to both children and adults. Healthy teeth can be moved at almost any point in a person's life; although some orthodontic problems are easier to correct at a younger age. During regularly scheduled visits for you or your children, be sure to discuss any orthodontic concerns with your dentist. Correcting an orthodontic problem can take a few months to several years. Generally, orthodontic treatment length is based on the complexity and severity of the problem, and will vary from person to person. Treatment length will also depend on the patient's age and cooperation in the process.

How Does Orthodontic Treatment Work?

Orthodontic appliances (traditional braces or clear aligners) apply a gentle amount of force in a specific direction to move teeth to a new position over a period of time. Generally, they meet the needs of the patient, while treating specific problems.

Do Braces Hurt?

Most individuals undergoing orthodontic treatment can expect to experience some mild discomfort, such as sore teeth or sensitivity to biting pressure for a few days. This is common when periodic adjustments occur during treatment. Overall, orthodontic discomfort can be easily managed with over-the-counter pain relievers, placing orthodontic was on areas that may be painful and other remedies, such as eating cold/frozen foods.

Are There Less Noticeable Braces?

Today's braces are more functional, visually pleasing, and less noticeable than those used in the past. Modern brackets are made out of metal, ceramic or plastic and can be either clear or colored. Additionally, the front teeth typically have the bracket bonded directly to the tooth as opposed to older braces, which included more cumbersome metal bands with brackets placed around each tooth. In addition, clear orthodontic aligners can be used to treat some conditions.

Follow up and routine oral health care is very important. Plaque can collect on braces and if not properly cared for may permanently stain or cause tooth decay. Make sure to have a good daily routine of brushing and flossing and include regular visits to a dentist.

Note: The information in this document is not meant to replace the advice of your dentist or another licensed healthcare professional. Talk to your dentist for any specific dental advice.

Sources: American Dental Association:; American Association of Orthodontists: