Introduction 

Orthodontics is a type of dentistry that aims to improve the appearance, position and function of crooked or abnormally arranged teeth.

The name comes from a Greek word that literally means "to straighten teeth".

Healthcare professionals who specialise in orthodontics are known as orthodontists. You can find a list of all specialist orthodontists registered in the UK on the General Dental Council (GDC) website.

What does orthodontic treatment involve?

Orthodontics uses devices such as a brace to correct the position of the teeth. Your exact treatment will depend on the problems with your teeth.

In some cases, you may have to wear headgear at night as well as a brace, and you may also need to have some teeth removed as part of your treatment.

If worn correctly, you are likely to achieve good results, usually within 18-24 months. If the problem is more complicated, treatment may take longer.

Read more about the types of orthodontic treatment.

Who needs orthodontic treatment?

You may need orthodontic treatment if your teeth or jaw do not develop in a normal way. This can cause discomfort and make it hard to maintain good oral hygiene.

In some cases, abnormal development of the teeth and jaw can affect the shape of the face, which could cause psychological and emotional problems, such as lack of self-confidence.

Problems with crooked and out-of-place teeth are quite common in the UK. A recent study carried out in England found that around a third of 12 year olds would benefit from some degree of orthodontic treatment.

Read more about when orthodontic treatment is used.

How can I access orthodontic treatment?

In most cases, you or your child will be referred to an orthodontist by your dentist, although you may be able to seek treatment directly.

If orthodontic treatment is recommended, you may have to decide whether to have treatment privately or on the NHS.

NHS orthodontic treatment is free for people under the age of 18 with a clear clinical need for treatment. However, due to high demand there can be a long waiting list for NHS orthodontic treatment.

If you or your child does not qualify for free NHS treatment, or you don't want to wait for treatment to start, you may choose to have private treatment. Private treatment is widely available but can be expensive, with an average fee of between £2,000 and £6,000.

Read more about accessing orthodontic treatment.

Braces are a type of orthodontic treatment appliance used to correct the position of the teeth 

Keeping your braces clean

A common complication of orthodontics is tooth decay.

This can happen because orthodontic appliances can sometimes stimulate the production of saliva, which combines with small particles of food and bacteria that have not been cleaned from the teeth properly to form a sticky film known as plaque.

The plaque causes the enamel to decay. This effect is worsened by the fact that many people with appliances find it difficult to keep their teeth clean, so additional brushing is essential during treatment.

To reduce your risk of enamel decay, your orthodontist may recommend you use toothpaste with high levels of fluoride or a mouthwash that contains fluoride. You should also try to avoid sugary foods and fizzy drinks.

If you neglect your oral hygiene, orthodontic treatment may not be effective and could even make things worse. If this is the case, treatment will be stopped.

Page last reviewed: 10/12/2012

Next review due: 10/12/2014