Orthodontics at Mayo Clinic

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, as the specialty is called, is the branch of dentistry that specializes in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. The technical term for these problems is "malocclusion," which means "bad bite." The practice of orthodontics requires professional skill in the design, application and control of corrective appliances (braces) to bring teeth, lips and jaws into proper alignment and achieve facial balance.

In conjunction with the Center for Sleep Medicine, we are helping some patients who have obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. After an evaluation, the orthodontist can fabricate and insert an intra-oral device that protrudes the jaw and tongue forward to create increased airway space, ultimately reducing the disturbed sleep and snoring.

What is an orthodontist?
An Orthodontist is a highly trained specialist who has not only graduated as a dental surgeon but has returned to University for post-graduate training on a full-time basis. Post-graduate training lasts a minimum of 24 consecutive months and often will last in excess of 36 – 48 months for those dedicated to extensive research projects. Your orthodontist will work with your dentist to provide you with the best treatment plan to suit your needs.

Why choose an orthodontist?
Orthodontists are the most highly trained specialists in the field of orthodontics. They are trained in a wide range of techniques and limit their practice exclusively to orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. They are therefore in the best position to provide optimal care to treat orthodontic problems.

Orthodontics and Children

At what age should my child first see an Orthodontist?
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children have an orthodontic screening no later than age 7.

Why screen by age 7?
The posterior occlusion (bite) is established when the first 6-year permanent molars erupt. At that time, one can evaluate the antero-posterior and transverse relationships of the occlusion, as well as discover any abnormal shifting of the lower jaw during function. Incisors have begun to erupt and problems can be detected such as crowding, adverse habits, overbites, openbites, and some facial asymmetries. For some, a timely screening will lead to significant treatment benefits; for some, an immediate benefit is a parent's peace of mind.

What are the benefits of early treatment?
For those patients who have clear indications for early intervention, early treatment presents the opportunity to:

  • Lower risk of trauma to protruded upper incisors. Multiple studies from Europe and the U.S. indicate that children with protruded incisors sustained significantly more injuries to their front teeth.
  • Influence jaw growth in a positive manner
  • Harmonize width of the dental arches
  • Improve eruption patterns of permanent teeth
  • Correct harmful oral habits
  • Improve esthetics and self-esteem
  • Simplify and/or shorten treatment time for later corrective orthodontics
  • Reduce likelihood of impacted permanent teeth
  • Improve some speech problems
  • Preserve or gain space for erupting permanent teeth

Orthodontics and Adults

Dental health concerns are often the primary consideration for adult treatment. Crooked teeth and bad bites may affect oral health. Orthodontic treatment may help prevent many serious potential problems such as tooth decay, gum disease and eventual tooth loss.

Many adults are seeking braces to improve the appearance of their teeth. The techniques used in the movement of adult teeth are similar to those used in children. Gaps between teeth, crowding, protruding front teeth, and teeth in abnormal positions are problems that may be corrected in the adult by orthodontic treatment.

As people become increasingly health conscious, orthodontists may see a continuing increase in the number of adult orthodontic patients. The use of small metal or clear (ceramic) braces has led to greater acceptance by adults to undergo orthodontic treatment. However, certain conditions cannot be resolved with braces alone, because an adult's facial bones are no longer growing. Sometimes, jaw surgery is required to obtain the ideal result.

The health of teeth, gums and supporting bone, as well as harmonious jaw relationships, are key factors in determining the possibility of improving one's appearance through orthodontic treatment.