When orthodontics is used 

Orthodontic treatment is most commonly used to improve the appearance and function of misaligned or crooked teeth.

Teeth that are straighter and better aligned should be easier to clean, and may reduce strain on the muscles and joints of the jaw.

The improved appearance of your teeth or jaw might also help to boost your self-esteem and self-confidence.

Teeth problems

Some of the most common teeth problems requiring orthodontic treatment are listed below.

  • protruding upper front teeth – one of the most common reasons for needing orthodontic treatment, particularly as the teeth may be more prone to damage during falls or contact sports
  • crowding – people with narrow jaws often lack enough space for their teeth, resulting in crowding
  • impacted teeth – the adult teeth may not come through as they grow in the wrong position
  • asymmetrical teeth – in some people, the centre of their upper and lower teeth do not match, giving their teeth an asymmetrical or crooked appearance
  • deep bite – the upper teeth cover the lower teeth too much
  • reverse bite – the upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth
  • open bite – the upper and lower front teeth do not meet when the mouth is closed; an open bite often occurs as a result of prolonged thumb sucking

Causes of teeth problems

Sometimes, problems that affect the normal development of teeth run in families. This suggests there may be certain genes you inherit from your parents that disrupt the development of your teeth and jaw. Genes are units of genetic material that control how your body and characteristics develop.

In many cases, problems with a person's teeth and jaw occur for no apparent reason. However, they can be damaged in an accident, such as a fall, or as a result of activities such as persistent thumb sucking.

Looking after baby teeth properly can reduce the problems sometimes found with adult teeth.

Other reasons for treatment

Orthodontics can also be used to treat other health problems.

For example, orthodontics is part of treatment for cleft lip and palate, a type of birth defect where a child is born with a split (cleft) in their upper lip, the roof of their mouth (the palate), or both. Orthodontic treatment can help correct the function and appearance of the teeth and jaw. 

People who have been diagnosed with mild sleep apnoea may also benefit from orthodontic treatment. This is a condition that causes interrupted breathing during sleep. An orthodontist can make a dental appliance, similar to a gum shield, which can help prevent the airway from closing while you sleep.

When can treatment start?

A course of orthodontic treatment will usually only be started after all of a child's adult teeth have started to come through.

For most children this will be when they are about 12 or 13 years of age, although treatment may sometimes be necessary before or after this.

For adults, orthodontic treatment can begin at any age, but what can be done is more limited.

Oral hygiene

Orthodontists will not usually begin a course of orthodontic treatment unless you have a good standard of oral hygiene.

This is because people receiving orthodontic treatment are at an increased risk of tooth decay if they do not brush their teeth regularly and have a good diet.

See dental health for more information and advice.

Page last reviewed: 10/12/2012

Next review due: 10/12/2014