Orthodontia - the basics
Orthodontic treatment encompasses the design and use of corrective appliances (such as braces, plates, headgears and functional appliances) to bring the teeth and jaws into correct alignment.
Orthodontic complications are often detected in patients under the age of ten, when most of the adult front teeth have erupted. However, your dentist may detect an orthodontic problem earlier or later than this.
Orthodontic Treatment – What happens?
The first consultation
During this visit the patient is examined clinically. This enables the orthodontist to give advice on the treatment options available, when treatment should commence, the duration of treatment, and the approximate cost. If the patient decides to proceed with treatment, an appointment is made to collect records.
Records include: Plaster models of the teeth, Photographs of the teeth and face, and X-rays of the teeth and jaws. Records allow the orthodontist to analyse each case accurately. They are also used to record the existing malocclusion or misalignment of teeth for future reference.
At this visit the orthodontist discusses the treatment plan(s) which have been formulated using information obtained from the first consultation and records. Then, arrangements are made to commence treatment or, if it is too early, to review the patient periodically until it is an appropriate time to commence treatment.
Extractions and other preliminary procedures
Sometimes it is necessary to remove teeth to gain sufficient space to align the remaining teeth. Any decayed teeth should be filled and the teeth sometimes need to be cleaned before orthodontic treatment is started.
Braces are the most efficient and accurate way of moving teeth. Braces (bands, brackets and wires) are usually made of stainless steel although clear brackets are available, usually at extra cost. Fitting the braces usually involves two visits. Braces remain on the teeth for the entire duration of treatment. Patients then attend approximately every 4-8 weeks for adjustments, wire changes, etc.
Rubber Bands and Headgear
During treatment, patients may need to wear such items as rubber bands and/or headgear with their braces. These items provide important extra forces for the correction of the bite.
Length of treatment
Orthodontic treatment usually takes 18 - 24 months. Some cases may be finished earlier and others may take longer to complete. The total treatment time depends on the severity of the original malocclusion, the type of treatment carried out, and the co-operation of the patient.
Orthodontic patients should continue to attend their family dentist for regular check-ups during the course of orthodontic treatment.
At the completion of the active part of orthodontic treatment, the braces are removed and retaining appliances (retainers) are fitted to hold the teeth steady in their new position. These appliances may be removable plates or wires fitted behind the teeth.
Retainers play an important role in orthodontic treatment for, if they are not worn according to instructions, the teeth may move back towards their original position. The corrected teeth are observed periodically for up to five years after the retainers have been phased out. During retention and the subsequent observation period, patients are expected to attend once or twice a year.
The cost of orthodontic treatment
In Australia, the fee for orthodontic treatment involving upper and lower braces varies from $4500 to $8000 or more. Should treatment involve braces in only one arch, the fee is considerably less.
This fee usually covers the entire treatment including fitting of braces, periodic adjustments, removal of the braces, and the retention and observation periods thereafter. The fee usually does not cover such items as the consultation, records, or other preparatory steps prior to the fitting of braces. Your orthodontist should discuss the fee with you before treatment is commenced.