Every other week, Joey's friend Vinnie misses math class to
go to the orthodontist and have his
checked. One day the dentist told Joey's mom that Joey should
see an orthodontist, too. What's an orthodontist? Why does Joey
need to see one? And what will happen at the appointment?
What's an Orthodontist?
Just like baseball and gymnastics are types of sports, an
-tist) is a type of dentist. An orthodontist prevents and treats
mouth, teeth, and jaw problems. Using braces,
, and other devices, an orthodontist helps straighten a
and correct the way the jaws line up.
Straight teeth and aligned jaws create nice smiles. On top of
that, when your jaws and teeth are well aligned, it's easier to
chew food. Orthodontic care can even help prevent snoring!
So why would you go to the orthodontist? Your dentist or one of
your parents might recommend it because they see a problem with
your teeth or jaws. Or a kid who doesn't like the way his or
her teeth look might ask to see an orthodontist.
Orthodontists treat kids for many problems, including having
crowded or overlapping teeth or having problems with jaw growth and
tooth development. These tooth and jaw problems may be caused by
tooth decay, losing baby teeth too soon, accidents, or habits like
thumb sucking. These problems also can be genetic or inherited,
meaning that they run in a person's family.
When Should a Kid Go to the Orthodontist?
There's no set age for a kid to visit the orthodontist -
some kids go when they're 6, some kids go when they're 10,
and some go while they're teens. Even adults visit the
orthodontist for treatment. Many orthodontists say a kid should see
an orthodontist before age 7 so any problems can be spotted early.
That doesn't mean a kid will get braces right away. But the
orthodontist will know which problems exist and can choose the best
time to start treatment.
What Happens at the Orthodontist?
When you make your first trip to the orthodontist, you'll
visit an office that looks a lot like your dentist's office.
You'll sit in a dentist chair and the orthodontic technician or
assistant might take X-rays or computer pictures of your mouth and
and pictures show the orthodontist where the teeth are positioned
and whether you have teeth that haven't come in yet.
The technician also may make a mold (or impression) of your
teeth by pressing a tray of gooey material into your top and bottom
teeth. When the mold is removed, there will be a perfect impression
of the shape and size of your teeth. A mold helps the orthodontist
decide how to straighten your teeth.
The orthodontist will examine your teeth, mouth, and jaws. He or
she may ask you to open wide or bite your teeth together. He or she
may ask questions about whether you have problems chewing or
swallowing or whether your jaws ever click or pop when you open
your mouth. The orthodontist may tell you and your parent that your
teeth and jaws are fine. Or he or she might recommend that you get
braces or a retainer.
What Do Braces Do?
Braces correct how your teeth line up by putting steady pressure
on the teeth, which eventually moves them into a straighter
position. A retainer also applies pressure to your teeth, and it
may be used to hold your teeth in a straight position after wearing
braces. Sometimes the orthodontist may recommend that you have one
or more teeth removed to create more space in your mouth. If you
need to have teeth removed, you'll get medicine that will keep
Once your braces are on, you'll visit the orthodontist every
few weeks. It's important to remember that you still need to
get regular dental checkups during this time because the
orthodontist doesn't clean your teeth or check for cavities. On
some visits to the orthodontist, he or she may simply check to make
sure that your braces are in place as they should be. At other
visits, the orthodontist may adjust wires on the braces to move the
teeth into position. The orthodontist may show you how to wear
rubber bands, which are stretched between two teeth and help to
correct the way your teeth line up.
Some kids also may need to wear other devices, such as headgear.
You may have seen kids who have headgear, which gets its name from
the fact that it's worn around the head. Headgear uses a
horseshoe-shaped wire, which attaches to back teeth. It's
designed to apply pressure that pushes the back teeth back,
allowing more room for teeth in the front of the mouth.
You can expect to feel a little uncomfortable sometimes when you
wear braces or other orthodontic devices. Your mom or dad can give
you a pain reliever if it hurts. And the orthodontist usually
provides wax you can use to cover any sharp spots on the braces
that are bothering you or are rubbing against the inside of your
mouth or gum.
How Long Will I Have to Go to the Orthodontist?
Every person wears braces for a different length of time, but
most people wear braces for 1 to 3 years. After the braces are
removed, many kids need to wear a retainer for a while to keep
their teeth in place. During this time, you'll still need to
visit the orthodontist regularly. Every kid wears a retainer for a
different length of time. But the good news is, by the time
you're wearing a retainer, you'll be smiling a super
Lisa A. Goss, RDH, BS
Date reviewed: June 2006
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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