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Straighter teeth and improved bite are sought by growing numbers of patients

More and more Canadians, of all ages, are relying on braces to align crooked, crowded or protruding teeth

“Braces can be used to straighten teeth and correct irregular bites. In young people, they can also adjust growth discrepancies between the upper and lower jaw,” explains Dr. Stephanie Walker, an orthodontist with Central Orthodontics in Grand Falls-Windsor, NL.

Bringing teeth, lips and jaws into proper alignment is something to smile about. Without treatment, the problems can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and bone destruction, as well as chewing and digestive difficulties. A “bad bite,” as it’s often called, can contribute to speech impairment, tooth loss, chipped teeth and other dental injuries. Straight teeth simply function better—and are easier to clean.

Braces, however, can do more than correct alignment and improve bite. They can build confidence. “People often wear braces to have a better smile. This helps their self-esteem,” says Dr. Robert Hatheway, an orthodontist in Fredericton, NB.

Three components are used in braces. Brackets are glued to the teeth, and wires are threaded through slots in the brackets. The wires are held to the brackets by tiny rubber bands, called ligatures or o-rings, that can be very colourful and distinctive. “The brace is really just a handle,” says Dr. Hatheway. “The action comes from the wires. They allow you to apply force to the tooth that can remodel the bone around the tooth.”

Slow and steady is the science behind braces. Over time, as bone is remodeled teeth are straightened, the jaw is aligned and the bite improved. Treatment time usually ranges from 12 to 30 months—the average being about 18 months.

According to the Canadian Association of Orthodontists, the high-tech materials in today’s braces offer improved comfort. The sophisticated engineering of the nickel-titanium alloy wires increases strength and flexibility.

Of course, good oral health care doesn’t stop when braces go on. In fact, says Dr. Walker, proper care is more important as braces can trap food very easily, which promotes plaque formation and can lead to gum disease and enamel damage. Brushing after eating is important, along with flossing daily. This will take longer than usual: both braces and teeth need to be cleaned.

While the braces are on, plan on a visit to the orthodontist every four to six weeks for adjustments. Once the braces are off, you will need to wear a retainer, a plastic molded insert that holds teeth in their new positions and enables newly formed bone to harden around the teeth. In some cases, people wear a retainer full time for the first six months after their braces are removed then reduce this to night time only. Like braces, retainers come in many funky, fun colours.

In the last decade, clear braces have become popular, as have lingual braces, which are applied to the backs of the teeth to manipulate them from behind. Clear, acrylic liners, also called aligners, are worn for two weeks at a time to slowly move teeth and are a popular choice with many adults.

With such a wide range of choices and an increased understanding of the benefits, adults are more comfortable wearing braces. “The stigma doesn’t exist anymore,” says Dr. Walker.

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