Dental braces are a way of straightening or moving your teeth, to improve how they look and how they work. Braces can also help you look after the long-term health of your teeth and gums and make eating more comfortable, by spreading the biting pressure across all your teeth.

Braces work by putting pressure on the teeth, to slowly move them in the right direction. As the pressure takes effect, the bone in the jaw changes to allow the teeth and their roots to move.

Who usually has orthodontic treatment and wears braces?

The best time to have braces is generally during childhood. But adults can have orthodontic treatment too – and more and more are doing this. Age is less important than having healthy teeth and gums. Children may have to wait for enough teeth to come through before starting treatment.

It is important that your mouth is fit and healthy before you have orthodontic treatment. Some patients can’t have orthodontic treatment – for example, if they have advanced gum disease. Only an orthodontist can decide whether you are able to have orthodontics.

Why might I need braces?

There are many reasons why you might want, or be advised, to have braces.

Some of the most common reasons are:

  • overcrowded or crooked teeth
  • not enough, or too much, spacing between your teeth
  • upper front teeth that stick out (called an 'overjet')
  • lower teeth that bite too far behind your upper teeth (called an 'overbite') 
  • upper front teeth that bite behind your lower ones (called an 'underbite')
  • the appearance of your smile

What is it like to wear braces?

Most braces are made of metal, but some are made of ceramic or plastic. They are designed to be comfortable, but they may rub your mouth or make it feel sore. Also, your teeth may feel tender or sore as they start to move. These issues don’t usually last long (a few days at most). They may happen at the start of your treatment or when your brace has been adjusted.

Your braces may feel large in your mouth at first, but it is important to remember that your mouth will adapt and get used to them. They are there to guide your teeth into a new and proper position, but they will only do this if you keep wearing them.

How long will the treatment take?

This depends on how out-of-position your teeth are. It may take anything from a few months to two-and-a-half years. Most people can be treated in one to two years.

Do I need to keep seeing my orthodontic team during treatment?

Yes. Everyone will have their own plan tailored to them by their orthodontic team, and braces usually need adjusting every 6 to 8 weeks.

To get the best results possible, you will need regular appointments with your orthodontist. They will check your brace and teeth, and make adjustments to the brace if they need to.

Are straight teeth the only benefit of getting braces?

No, there are many benefits that come with orthodontic treatment.

Orthodontic treatment will straighten your teeth or move them into a better position. This not only improves their appearance and the way the teeth bite together but can also make them easier to clean.

Some people have teeth that stick out. These teeth can be moved back into line (inside the lips) and this can protect them and help keep them clean.

Crooked and crowded teeth can be hard to keep clean. Making them straight can mean they are easier to clean.

Teeth that do not meet properly can wear down over time. This can change their appearance.

Awkward ‘bites’ often cause jaw problems, but straight and even teeth will let you chew food more comfortably. If you feel you have jaw ache, please ask a dental professional for advice. There may be other issues that need to be put right. Only a dentist or orthodontist will be able to give you advice about this.

Orthodontic treatment may be the best way to improve your teeth. But it is important that you discuss all aspects of your treatment – and the possible and realistic outcomes – before starting.

Can orthodontics damage my teeth?

Your teeth can only be damaged if you don't look after them properly during treatment.

The braces themselves will not cause any damage. But poor cleaning and too many sugary foods and drinks can cause permanent damage to your teeth. You need to clean your teeth and braces very carefully.

Because your teeth, and the roots of your teeth, move through the bone this can cause a slight shortening of the root. This change does not harm your teeth and should not stop you having treatment. Before having orthodontic treatment, it is important that any possible risks are explained to you.

If orthodontic treatment is carried out incorrectly, there can be permanent damage to the jaw bone, gums and the roots of the teeth. A fully trained orthodontist will make sure this does not happen.

Is orthodontic work permanent?

It’s always possible that teeth might move. Orthodontic treatment aims to move the teeth into a stable position. This is complicated and needs a specialist understanding of where teeth can be moved to, and how.

The new position of your teeth should be a stable one. However, you should wear your braces for as long as your orthodontist advises. This will help stop your teeth from moving back to where they were. Even if they do this only slightly, you may be disappointed with the result.

You'll also need to wear a ‘retainer’ regularly for some time after your treatment has finished. This stops your teeth moving back to the position they were in before the treatment. We don’t want all the hard work you’ve put in up to this point going to waste!

How do I care for my brace and teeth?

It is important to keep having your teeth checked by your dental team, at routine check-ups, while you are having orthodontic treatment and afterwards.

Clean your teeth carefully every day, including between your teeth where you can. Braces are delicate and you need to make sure you clean them carefully so that they do not break. Your dental team will be able to show you how to do this for the type of brace you are wearing.

Again, cut down on how much sugary food and drink you have and how often you have them. Also, sticky and hard foods may damage your brace.

Finally, brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day. Use a mouthwash if you need to. Your dental team may recommend a stronger fluoride toothpaste, or perhaps a fluoride gel or mouth rinse, for you to use.

How successful are braces?

In most cases, orthodontic treatment works well, but you need to be committed to your treatment for it to be successful. Follow the instructions your orthodontist gives you.

While you are wearing braces, you need to be more careful about what you eat. To give your braces the best possible chance of improving your teeth, cutting back on sugary and acidic foods is a must. This is because braces can trap bits of food and cause more plaque to build up than usual. Plaque is a thin, sticky film of bacteria that builds up on your teeth.

You should keep seeing your regular dentist while having orthodontic treatment, and after your treatment has finished.


Related pages

  - Learning about braces

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