Posts for: December, 2017
Orthodontics can produce an amazing smile transformation. With today’s advanced appliances and techniques even the most difficult malocclusions (bad bites) can be overcome. All of this innovation, however, depends on one basic anatomical fact: though firmly set in the mouth, our teeth can still move.
Teeth are actually held in place by the periodontal ligament, a strong, elastic tissue that attaches to them through tiny collagen fibers on one side of the ligament and to the jawbone with similar fibers on the other side. When pressure is placed against a tooth, the bone on the opposite side of the force begins to dissolve (resorb), allowing the tooth to move. As it moves, new bone is built up behind the tooth, to stabilize it. Orthodontists take advantage of this natural mechanism through orthodontic hardware like braces that applies pressure in the desired direction of movement, while the ligament and bone do the rest.
There is, though, a downside to this process. The teeth, bone and gum tissues can contain a kind of “memory” for the former natural position of the teeth. Over time, the lower front teeth tend to take a gradual migratory movement back towards their original position. Also, as we age the lower front teeth may crowd each other as there is a genetic influence for teeth to move to the midline of the face, causing a pressure that allows the skinny lower front teeth to slip behind each other. As a result of both of these tendencies, corrected teeth may retreat from their new positions.
To stop these tendencies, we use an appliance known as a retainer after braces or other hardware is removed. As the name implies, this appliance “retains” the teeth in their new position. For structural “memory,” the retainer will keep the teeth in their new position until the impulse to return to the old one has faded, about eighteen months. Retainers can also slow or stop the natural genetic influence of movement, but it may mean wearing a retainer for an indefinite period, especially individuals who’ve undergone orthodontic treatment later in life.
The length of time you’ll need to wear a retainer after braces — and what type, whether a removable appliance or one permanently attached — will depend on a number of factors including the type of malocclusion, your individual mouth structure and age. We’ll recommend the best option that ensures the best chance of keeping your teeth in their new position.
If you would like more information on retainers after orthodontic treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
If you’ve ever looked at younger photos of yourself, you’re sure to notice differences with your present appearance. Of course, your basic features might appear much the same. But maybe your lips seemed a little thicker back then, or your nose a bit less prominent.
This is because your facial features don’t stop growing when you reach adulthood—they continue to change throughout your life. For example, lips reach their maximum thickness by around age 14 for girls or age 16 for boys; they’ll remain at that level of thickness for a few years before gradually thinning throughout adulthood. The nose will also continue to grow, becoming more prominent especially as changes in the lower part of the face can make the chin appear shorter.
Although each of us ages at different rates and in different ways, these general physical trends are somewhat predictable. That’s why we can use the knowledge of how our facial physiology changes with age to fine tune orthodontic or other cosmetic dental treatments. The most optimum approach is to consider treatment in the early stages of bite development during childhood or early adolescence.
This means we’re doing more than correcting a patient’s current bite: we’re also taking into account how tooth movement now might affect the jaw and facial structures later in life. By incorporating our understanding of age-related changes into our treatment we might be able to provide some hedge against the effects of aging.
This approach starts with early comprehensive dental care, preferably before a child’s first birthday, and an orthodontic evaluation at around age 6 to assess bite development. It may also be necessary to initiate interceptive treatment at an early age to lessen or even eliminate a growing bite problem to help ease the extent of future treatment. And if a bite requires correction, early evaluation can help create a timetable for effective treatment in later years.
Taking this approach can correct problems now affecting both dental health and appearance. But by acknowledging the aging process in our treatments, we can build the foundation for a beautiful smile well into the future.