How do braces straighten your teeth?
By Jason Bittel,
Do you have braces? You’re not alone. More than 3 million kids in the United States are walking around with shiny smiles now, not to mention 1 million adults. But how many of us truly understand what braces are and how they do what they do?
I didn’t know until I spoke with Christopher Roberts, president of the American Association of Orthodontists.
Roberts said braces can be made out of metal or plastic and incorporate things such as rubber bands, but the best way to think about them is that they are like tiny handles for each tooth.
“Fifty years ago, we would put a little ring around the tooth and then put the metal handle right on that ring,” he said. “But now we can glue that handle, what we call a bracket, right to your tooth.”
Then by connecting each of these brackets with a wire, an orthodontist can apply small amounts of pressure to each tooth to coax it into the right position. But how that works, exactly, is a whole other story.
When you stare in the mirror to brush your teeth, you can probably see that your teeth emerge from a soft, pink material known as gums. But that’s not what holds them in place.
“Actually, teeth are held in place by bone,” Roberts said. “And there’s a little ligament, or a fiber, that holds those teeth into the bone.”
The pressure created by braces pushes on that tooth, gently stretching the fibers on one side and squishing them down on the other. But it also changes the structure of your bones.
“So what happens is little cells in your body remove bone on the one side where the pressure is, and where the tension is on the other side, it actually builds up bone,” said Roberts.
Of course, building bones is a slow process, which is why braces usually require 1½ to 2 years to properly line up your teeth, and possibly solve problems with chewing or speaking. Part of how long it takes depends on you, too.
For instance, Roberts said that it really helps when kids follow the instructions given by their orthodontist. Wearing your rubber bands, avoiding sticky, chewy, hard or crunchy foods, and keeping your teeth clean help things along and prevent delays.
Careful brushing not only helps stop tooth decay but can also stop you from grossing out your family. They don’t want to see bits of last night’s pizza plastered to your pearly whites.
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