Our teeth are one of the first things that people notice about our appearance. Wouldn’t we all love to have a beautiful straight smile to display with confidence? New technology offers us many ways to achieve a beautiful smile even if nature didn’t equip us with one naturally. But contrary to popular belief, straight teeth are not all about vanity. Poor alignment of your teeth can impact your overall health and comfort more than you might think.
Cleaning crooked teeth
Crooked teeth are referred to as malocclusion and can put you at higher risk of decay and gum disease than you might think. That is because crooked teeth are difficult to clean. Think about a cluster of teeth and the gums that hold them in place. Without a nice alignment (something like a nice straight fence), bacteria and food debris can collect around the tooth and gum, making it harder for your toothbrush to effectively clean in those small spaces. If your gums are red and irritated, or if they bleed when brushed, this may be the first sign of periodontitis (gum disease).
Crooked teeth and Injury
When teeth stray from their neighbors, they may protrude either inward or outward. When this happens, your teeth are more susceptible to injury. Out on their own without the support of neighboring teeth, protruding teeth are more prone to chips, injury, and uneven wear.
How is your bite?
Our teeth and jaws are continuously in motion throughout the day. Whether talking, eating, or drinking, the alignment of your bite is more critical than you might expect. When considering the mechanics of your bite, your dentist will be watching for the following presentations:
- Buck teeth, or as dentists call it, upper protrusion. This occurs when the front teeth protrude outward and can be a sign of thumb sucking in young children.
- The amount of spacing or crowding in your mouth will also be checked by your dentist. Teeth that are too close together (called crowding) can cause other teeth to erupt improperly or not at all (impaction). Conversely, if teeth spacing is too far apart, the tooth may be prone to injury, as above.
- Your front and bottom teeth should meet in the center of the mouth, forming a straight line (called the midline). If your midlines do not align vertically, you have what is called a misplaced midline.
- Do all your teeth meet when you close your jaw? If only your back teeth are meeting, you could have what’s known as open bite.
- Overbite or underbite can be present when the front teeth overlap too much (causing injury to the roof of the mouth in extreme cases) or if upper front teeth present behind the lower front teeth, as in underbite.
- Teeth that are fitting into the wrong sides of each other indicate a cross bite.
- Crooked teeth often face the wrong way or lean to one side of the other. This is referred to as rotation.
- Each tooth has it rightful position along the gum line. Teeth that emerge from the gumline in place of one another are said to be transposed.
- Uneven wear occurs when one area of the mouth is showing more signs of wear than the other and indicates a lack of symmetry in the mouth.
- Complaints of headaches or pain while chewing will signal to your dentist the need to evaluate the health of your temporomandibular joint for TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder)
It used to be the case that straightening teeth required long-term wear of metal orthodontic braces, installed in the mouth. Metal braces continue to be an option for correcting malocclusion, however, patients often shy away from the installation of braces due to concerns about their esthetic, potential for discomfort, and difficulty cleaning.
A second option for the treatment of malocclusion is dental veneers. Veneers are esthetically pleasing and as easy to clean as your natural teeth, however, they can be costly to install and often require replacement around 20 years after installation. Unlike metal braces, veneers require that the natural tooth be etched prior to installing the veneer. Patients who do not want to alter the natural tooth may hesitate to undergo this treatment.
Luckily, there is another way.
Now you can straighten your teeth without all the hassle of altering your teeth or wearing metal brackets. The Invisalign system is a system of clear plastic trays called aligners, which are worn over the teeth. These aligners are numerous (typically 20-30) and each is nearly invisible, allowing the patient to correct their dental alignment without dramatically altering their appearance.
Invisalign® aligners should be worn for a minimum of 22 hours a day and are easily removed for eating and drinking. Teeth should be brushed clean and free of food debris before reinserting the Invisalign®aligners. A series of aligners are provided to the patient with instructions to wear each aligner in the series for a prescribed amount of time (typically 1-2 weeks) before moving on to the next aligner in the series. Small changes in the design of each aligner ensure that teeth migrate incrementally until your ‘malocclusion’ becomes, simply, occlusion (straight teeth!).