Orthodontics is considered a dental specialty. This means that after graduating dental school a dentist must yet complete at least 3 years of additional training specific to orthodontics. However, with the advent of new treatments and technologies, many general dentists are getting into the teeth straightening business. This may be considered both a good and bad thing.
So we have prepared a brief overview of treatment options along with their pros and cons to help you make a more informed decision.
Pros: In a word: Predictability! The best thing about the traditional type of braces is that you know what you are getting yourself into. The equipment and the techniques are “tried and true”. While, there are seldom any guarantees in dentistry, traditional orthodontics usually gets you the straight teeth you are looking for.
Also a pro…in most cases of traditional orthodontic treatment you are working with a true orthodontic specialist!
Cons: For most people, the biggest drawback to braces is that, well, you have to wear braces. Yes, you are going to have “brace face” for a couple of years – a condition that is universally undesirable for kids and adults alike. Clear brackets (the bits that stick to the teeth) have made things slightly more tolerable for many patients, however.
Also, it is difficult to clean effectively around brackets and wires. Most orthodontic patients should expect to develop some form of gingivitis (usually reversible) and possibly decalcification spots or “white spots” on their enamel. These undesirable side-effects can be avoided but usually require the use of prescription dental products (i.e high strength fluoride) or over the counter options like tooth mousse (more here) and more concentrated effort on the part of the patient when it comes to home care.
Another downside is that treatment times are typically longest with traditional braces; usually 18-24 months and in some cases even longer. They can hurt a little to start with, but so can all types of orthodontia.
This is an exciting new advancement in orthodontic technology. If you are not familiar with it, here is a brief introduction.
There are a few different types of orthodontic aligner systems out there, but the most well known (and well-tested) is ‘Invisalign’. All aligner systems use a series of clear (‘invisible’) retainers over the course of months or years to slowly move your teeth into proper alignment. The process starts with taking precise molds of your teeth (just like traditional braces) and then the computers and dental lab technicians take over.
First, the dental molds taken of your teeth are converted into a 3-D digital format from which computer programs and live technicians create a treatment plan specifically tailored to your unique orthodontic needs. Next, a series of custom precision milled retainers are created that will slowly move your teeth into a more ideal alignment. Now, pros and cons…
Pros: Simply put, they are user friendly. These aligners are clear, comfortable and cleansible and typically boast shorter treatment times (usually 9-18 months). These types of braces typically don’t result in the undesirable effects of traditional braces mentioned above like gingivitis and white spots because they are easily removed for eating and dental home care purposes. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that they may have desirable side effects; they can work in a similar way as bite guards or mouth guards protecting you against clenching and grinding and other traumas.
Another pro is that your general dentist may be able to provide these ‘invisible braces’ for you without having to see a specialist (although this can be a con as well; see below).
Cons: Clear aligners have limitations. Not everyone is a candidate for this option because not all types of tooth movement are possible as of yet (although recent breakthroughs have significantly improved their design capabilities in this regard). In fact, some aligner companies are now boasting that their technologies will soon be or are already capable of the same tooth movements that traditional braces can offer. Time will tell if these claims are really true.
Regardless, you will always have the limitations of the dentist who is providing your treatment. Some practitioners (including specialists) may start advertising these products before they are sufficiently capable with these new techniques to provide you with the best outcome. This can lead to extended treatment times or disappointing results. And, since both orthodontists and general dentists are allowed to do these treatments, additional research and energy may be required on your part to find a competent dentist that your are comfortable with to provide this service. Do your homework!
Cost varies from dentist to dentist but it is usually close to or greater than traditional options. Additionally, if insurance is involved it will likely require more time and energy (and probably frustration) on your part in determining from the insurance company what your “real” cost will be.
Fast Track Systems
There are a few new systems out there that offer very fast results using a combination of traditional braces and retainer technology, often in just 6 months or so. Some high profile celebrities like Tom Cruise have recently brought this to the attention of the general public.
The pros and cons of these types of braces are too complex for the purposes of this article but suffice it to say that the research in these developing technologies is limited. What research has been done indicates that some permanent damage is possible (especially to the root structures via resorption and bone) when teeth are moved too quickly.
Many patients have achieved pleasing results with these systems but it would be advisable to do considerable research and consultations to determine if this treatment is right for you.
In rare cases, orthodontic treatment can result in unintended and undesirable permanent damage to patients (i.e. jaw joint pain and/or dysfunction). While this is a possibility, the overwhelming majority of patients never regret having spent the time and money on improving their smile. Why?
First of all, straighter teeth are healthier teeth. They are easier to clean, thus reducing your risk of gum disease and cavities. Also, straighter teeth usually improving your bite and usually improve jaw joint pain and dysfunction.
Of course, not to be overlooked in our society is the social and psychological benefits of straighter teeth. A beautiful smile can improve your self-esteem and positively affect the way others view you. Don’t wait…get straight!