Orthodontics is all about making sure your teeth align properly so you get a healthy, beautiful smile. So while dentistry involves cleaning your teeth and filling cavities, orthodontics uses various appliances that attach to or around your teeth and then come off once your teeth meet correctly. Braces are the first things that come to mind, but there’s a lot more an orthodontist can use than just those.
Retainers are appliances that keep your teeth where they are. Even after your teeth are where they ought to be, they can move out of alignment for the same reasons that made them misaligned in the first place. Retainers retain the shape of your teeth so they stay where they ought to be, and orthodontists can make them out of clear plastic or a more heavy-duty composite material.
Temporary anchorage devices, or TADs, have been around for a while but are becoming increasingly popular. In essence, they are small titanium screws an orthodontist places in the jaw. The screw is small enough not to harm any tooth roots, the titanium lets the screw bond to the jaw without causing a rejection problem, and since the hole is small the body can heal over it once the screw comes out. TADs exist to give orthodontists extra pressure and leverage at a better angle for adjusting teeth.
When orthodontists see young patients who may have to deal with a crossbite or tooth crowding later in life, they bring out the expanders. Jaw and palatal expanders sit on the inside of the teeth and use a special kind of screw to expand and slowly push the jaw or palate out even as it develops. Expanders can also work on adults, but they’re much more effective in developing bodies which is why orthodontists prefer to catch these problems early.
“Headgear” refers to several kinds of appliance that strap on to the outside of the patient’s head. It’s no fun for any child to wear, especially since it’s a lot easier to spot than braces, but sometimes teeth need that extra leverage headgear provide to get into alignment. These days, most headgears are removable so kids only have to wear them at night, plus TADs are catching on as a much less visible alternative that upset kids can’t “forget” to put on.
A surprising number of things can go wrong with your teeth, and so orthodontists need a lot of appliances and other tools to correct them. Braces may be the most common solution, but they are by no means the only option around.