Getting braces has become incredibly common; at least among middle-class 1st world countries, getting braces is almost a kind of rite of passage. Since early orthodontic treatment is the best way to treat malocclusion or misaligned teeth, this is most often when it happens. There is no clear, all-encompassing theory of why teeth don’t grow in straight in all people, but most orthodontic scientists feel it has to do with genetics, meaning none of us to have much control over it, at all. For something that we can do nothing to prevent, malocclusion (the medical term for crooked teeth) has a tremendous effect on our psyche, which is why braces have become so common. Although it does present actual functional issues, in some cases, mostly the problem with malocclusion is simply that it makes people afraid to smile, and that puts a serious damper on their self-confidence. Nobody wants to feel embarrassed every time they smile, and certainly, nobody wants that for their kids, so people flock to orthodontists by the millions, every year.
But orthodontic treatment has changed quite a bit, over time. As with most medical treatments, it was once much more basic, and primitive, but now has reached a higher level of technological proficiency, and integration with new technologies, like computer software. Especially for adults, who typically would prefer not to have ugly metal braces on their teeth, advances in incognito types of braces have made this a better time to see the orthodontist than has ever been. Even for kids, though, smile correction has made leaps and bounds and does its job better than it ever has.
One way that orthodontist’s methods have improved is in the area of diagnostics. The primary method for diagnosing malocclusions is x-ray, and this technology has improved a lot over the years. In olden times, the flat, negative photos that were obtained with x-rays gave the orthodontist only a cursory idea of what was truly going on in your mouth. Now, with conical CT scans, it’s possible for orthodontists to have a much greater level of accuracy and understanding of the bone structure of your teeth, jaw, and lower skull. These scans, which use x-ray to scan in a conical shape, give your orthodontist a 3D computer representation of your skull, that looks like CGI from a movie. With this, they can see exactly what is going on with your teeth, and exactly how best to fix it.
Once an assessment is made, your orthodontist may only find it necessary to treat you with spacers, retainers, or other removable tools, if your malocclusion is not severe enough to warrant braces. However, this is very often not the case, and braces are frequently found to be necessary to give you the smile you really want. Braces use interconnected brackets, which attach to the surfaces of the teeth, to maneuver your teeth into a better, more aesthetically pleasing position. They usually have to be worn for several weeks or months, and periodically adjusted, meaning trips in to see your orthodontist every couple of weeks.
A number of advances have been made in the world of braces, many of them geared towards adults seeking some form of invisible braces, for obvious reasons. Most adults do not prefer to have the same extremely obvious and prominent metal braces worn by children. To address this desire, orthodontic innovators have created several variations on the approach of braces, that don’t have such a negative effect on appearance. In some cases, they are very nearly invisible. There are braces that simply use different materials, the most popular being clear and ceramic braces, which blend in better with the teeth, and then there are lingual braces, which hide behind the teeth, by attaching to the backs of the, rather than the fronts. These are all great options, all still just different types of braces.
There’s also another option, that is an alternative to braces, called Invisalign aligners. Aligners are like clear plastic sheaths which fit directly over your teeth, one for the top row, and one for the bottom. They are basically invisible, like a clear laminated layer over your teeth, and have the added convenience of being removable. Invisalign aligners accomplish the same goal as braces, but by surrounding your teeth with a plastic casing, rather than attaching to their surfaces. Each pair of Invisalign aligners is custom printed using scans of your teeth, by your orthodontist. New aligners then have to be printed every 2-3 weeks.