Orthodontic irregularities are extremely common andvary in their complexity. In the case of a severe irregularity, the orthodontist may work in conjunction with a maxillofacial surgeon or another dental professional to correctly realign the teeth and underlying jawbone. Malocclusions, or misaligned bites, however, are usually treated by the orthodontist alone. Orthodontic treatment for malocclusion typically occurs in two or three main stages:
Phase 1: Planning
The goal of the first several visits to the orthodontist is to determine an exact diagnosis and plan expedient treatment. The orthodontic evaluation usually includes:
A complete dental and medical history review
Castings or bite impressions of the teeth
Panoramic x-rays of the jaws and teeth
Additional imaging of the face, teeth and jaw joints
Computer-generated images of the head, face and neck
Phase 2: Active Treatment
Once a specific diagnosis has been made, the orthodontist applies a device to realign the teeth, which is either fixed or removable. The best known type of fixed device is traditional dental braces, which use brackets interconnected by an archwire. Continual gentle pressure is applied on teeth by the gradual tightening of the archwire. Regular orthodontic adjustments are necessary to continue the straightening process.
Removable devices include the Invisalign® system and headgear. These devices should be worn for a specified number of hours each day. The success of these removable appliances largely depends on the motivation of the wearer. The orthodontist monitors and adjusts the device at regular appointments.
Phase 3: Retention
When treatment is complete, the braces and appliances are removed. The orthodontist then creates a retainer. The retainer ensures that the teeth do not regress back to their original positioning. The retainer is worn for a specified number of hours each day to allow the bone to reform and stabilize the teeth in their new, correct alignment.