Advances in Orthodontic Braces - Say Goodbye to the Clunky "Train Tracks" of Earlier Generations

Orthodontic braces have seen significant advances over the last twenty years. Find out how today's braces are better than ones worn by earlier generations.

 Orthodontic treatment has been on the rise in the United States over the last five years. According to a survey by the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), orthodontists were treating over 5.8 million patients in 2012. That is a 20% increase compared to figures from 2010.

Most people think braces have only been around for the last fifty years or so, but people have actually been concerned with straight teeth for centuries. There is just something about a straight set of teeth that exudes attraction and confidence, isn't there?

Treatment for dental health issues has been a concern since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians, with the earliest signs of dental surgery occurring around 3,000 to 2,500 BC. Ancient Egyptian dental treatments included filling a cavity between two teeth, specifically a large inter-proximal cavity, with a protective linen barrier, likely treated with medicine to relieve pain and discomfort.

Archaeologists have also discovered signs of orthodontic treatment in ancient times. According to the American Association of Orthodontists, Egyptian mummies have been discovered with crude metal bands wrapped around their teeth. It is believed that catgut was attached to the bands to apply pressure to poorly aligned teeth. And in 500-400 BC, Hippocrates and Aristotle both considered ways to straighten teeth and fix dental conditions. It has also been discovered that, during Greece's Golden Age, Etruscans used special dental appliances for the purpose of maintaining space and preventing dental collapse.

While it is nice to hear that our ancestors had some form of dental treatment to combat issues, a look at more recent developments in dental appliances does much to make us feel grateful that we live in today's technologically advanced world. Even in the last twenty years, there have been significant developments in orthodontic dentistry.

Braces are an effective way to straighten the teeth and move them into a position that is better suited for a healthy mouth. When teeth fit together just right, tooth damage, jaw issues, and even issues of the rest of the body can be eliminated. Researchers have discovered that a misaligned jaw structure can cause other health issues including pressure on the brain stem, compression on the ear canal which can cause allergies and drainage issues, and stress on the ribs and the underlying organs. So, making sure that the teeth fit together not only prevents chipped or cracked teeth, but also promotes good health.

Modern Types of Orthodontic Braces

The orthodontic braces of the modern world include metal, ceramic or clear, lingual, and clear aligners. They are designed to meet the modern world's requirements for functionality, aesthetics, and comfort. While clunky, inconvenient, or ineffective in their earlier years, braces and other orthodontic appliances today have seen some significant advances. They are light-weight, easier to install, and offer better results than their ancestors.

Metal Braces

The standard metal braces, the ones we might remember as the clunky "train tracks", are much lighter now and are the most popular type of braces. In addition to being lighter, today's metal braces require far less metal in the mouth. The brackets have been improved, no longer requiring metal ties to hold the arch wire securely in place. The arch wire is the horizontal wire that runs across the teeth. Some brackets now have their own clasps and others use colorful elastic bands to attach the arch wire.

Ceramic Braces

Ceramic braces are now available and are often preferred by adults who receive orthodontic treatment. Similar to traditional metal braces and offering all of the same orthodontic benefits, ceramic braces have brackets that are made of clear or tooth-colored ceramic material and are hard to see unless viewed up close. The arch wire may even be less noticeable.

While ceramic braces are effective, they are more expensive, more fragile, and require more care on a daily basis compared to their metal counterparts.

Lingual Braces

Lingual braces are another option now available to orthodontic patients. These braces are even less noticeable than ceramic braces because they are bonded to the tongue side of the teeth. This means they are invisible from the frontal view. Lingual braces get their name from the part of the mouth where they are affixed, typically placed along the lingual ridge on the lower arch of the anterior teeth. They may contain metal, ceramic, or a rope-like device that is glued to the teeth.

Unfortunately, lingual braces are not an option for everyone. And they do take some getting used to. They can also be more expensive and difficult to clean and adjust compared to traditional braces.  

Clear Aligners

While clear aligners are not technically braces, they are another option for orthodontic patients desiring improved tooth alignment. They are a great way to improve a smile without the need for braces, however, they do work best for teeth needing only mild to moderate realignment. This treatment method was introduced around the turn of the millennium and relies on a series of clear plastic aligners. Custom made for a patient's mouth, the aligner trays fit over the teeth and must be worn for at least 22 hours a day. As the teeth slowly move over a period of two to three weeks, a new tray is introduced. Over a longer period of time, the teeth are moved significantly.

Other Modern Orthodontic Appliances

Other orthodontic appliances, including palatal expanders, temporary anchorage devices, and orthodontic spacers, are designed to help minimize treatment times, maximize results, and work with the body's natural growth processes.

Palatal Expanders

Palatal expanders, usually worn by preteens, are used to widen the jawbone and help battle certain orthodontic conditions to prevent tooth extraction and even shorten the time necessary for orthodontic braces. While this method sounds extreme and there may be some initial discomfort, orthodontics say arch expansion is one of the most common ways to eliminate crowding and crossbites in growing patients. Successful expansion requires that the growth plate in the mouth (the midpalatal suture) is not fused. Fusion usually occurs between ages 14 and 16.

Patients may experience pressure on the teeth, in the roof of the mouth, behind the nose, and between the eyes as their expander is activated. This pressure, however, should fade within minutes. Adapting to a palatal expander usually takes a day or two, but it may take up to two weeks.

Temporary Anchorage Devices

A temporary anchorage device, or TAD, is an implant, a small titanium anchor, that is fixed to bone for the purpose of providing orthodontic anchorage and may be used in addition to braces or as an alternative to headgear. Once the orthodontic treatment is complete, the TAD is removed. This device may also be used to help fix more complex orthodontic problems and achieve quicker tooth movement.

According to Moon & MacGinnis Orthodontics in Fullerton, California, TADs can stabilize a tooth being used as an anchor, eliminate the need to use a tooth as an anchor, and provide an anchorage point where tooth anchorage is not normally available. When used with orthodontics, they can reduce orthodontic treatment time by one third, eliminate the need for a headgear, provide a more ideal finish, allow for significant skeletal changes during growth modification procedures, allow limited tooth movement in preparation for a bridge, crown, or implant without braces, close most open bites without surgery, and eliminate the need for rubber bands.

Orthodontic Spacers

Orthodontic spacers are rubber bands or metal appliances designed to improve the spacing between teeth or add space between the back molars where a metal band is wrapped around the tooth during orthodontic brace installation. These spacers aid in the orthodontic process, making installation easier and the process less uncomfortable for the patient.

Experts say that approximately 25 to 50 percent of children require orthodontics treatments. And up to 75 percent of kids need orthodontic care for not-so-obvious dental conditions such as TMJ (temporomandibular joint) issues. According to the AAO, a child should have an orthodontic evaluation by age 7 to determine any dental problems. An orthodontist can spot subtle problems with jaw growth and emerging teeth. Detecting problems early on can prevent more serious dental conditions and could make treatment at a later age shorter or less complicated.

As you can see, the world of orthodontic dentistry has seen some significant advances and offer a wide range of orthodontic treatments to address a number of dental conditions. Addressing dental conditions early on can help make the orthodontic process much easier and more comfortable.

While most of these treatments can be expensive, you may be able to save up to 50% on braces and other orthodontic services with CarefreeDental's savings plan. Before you schedule the appointment with the orthodontist, check out our dental discount plan to see if it is right for you and your family. A savings may give you and your family the ability to select an orthodontic appliance that is better suited to your specific preferences.



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