Dental Braces - Costs and Recovery
Dental braces are orthodontic devices used to straighten teeth or correct a problem with a patient's bite. Braces can be made of stainless steel, ceramic or plastic, and some types can be customized with special colors. They apply constant pressure against the teeth to push them in a certain direction for a period of 1 to 3 years. Dental braces are made of a wire attached to a series of brackets that are attached to the teeth with a special bonding agent. They need adjustments over the span of their lifetime, as the teeth adjust, and some patients have to wear a retainer once the braces are removed.
The Need for Braces
Dental braces are most commonly used by preteens and teenagers who have their adult teeth. Adults can also correct a problematic bite with braces. The braces can correct an improper bite for both aesthetic and health reasons. An overcrowded bite can lead to additional problems of gum disease and cavities. The types of bites and problems that can be corrected with dental braces include
- open bite
- crowded teeth
- spaces or gaps in the teeth
- improved appearance, straighter teeth
- less difficulty in chewing, due to corrected bite
- can prevent jaw from becoming misaligned
- stop or prevent teeth from cutting into the upper or lower mouth, which can happen with an under- or overbite
Braces can be made of different materials, and there are different types of braces as well. The type of materials can affect the cost somewhat, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each type. In addition, braces can come in a design that's fixed in the mouth or in a removable form. A more expensive form is lingual braces, which are attached at the back of the teeth.
Stainless steel is often considered the optimal material for braces. It's durable, stainless and easy to work with.
Ceramic or Plastic
These materials are often chosen because of their appearance. They can be colored to match the patient's teeth, making them less visible. They can also be customized with brackets that have fun shapes or colors for teens and children. A disadvantage to plastic braces is that they can stain by the end of the treatment period. Plastic and ceramic braces can cause more friction between the wire and the brackets. This can require additional treatment time and adjustments in order to align the patient's bite properly.
The orthodontist consults with the patient (and parents, if necessary) to make sure he or she understands the process, maintenance and care of dental braces. Additional X-rays may be taken in the preliminary stages.
A device is used to help hold the patient's mouth open, and the teeth are rinsed and dried. The bonding agent is applied to the teeth with a swab. Small tools are then used to affix the brackets to each tooth. Once the brackets are roughly in place, the orthodontist adjusts their position. The excess bonding agent is then scraped off.
The brackets are exposed to a UV light to harden the bonding agent. A wire is then inserted through the brackets, and bands are used to hold the wire in place. The orthodontist trims the excess wire off toward the back of the mouth, and then the braces are fully installed.
Dental insurance will typically cover braces for children and teens but not adults. A set of braces and the treatment costs can range from $5,500 to $7,000, depending on where you live and the severity of the problem that's being corrected. Ceramic or plastic brackets that are tooth-colored will add about $500 to the cost. If you opt for special colors or shapes on the brackets, this will increase the price as well.
Read more about the cost of dental braces.
The wire that's placed through the brackets on dental braces acts as a guide for the teeth. They'll shift in the direction of the wire over time. This allows the orthodontist to direct the teeth and correct the patient's bite in a very precise manner.
Invisalign has emerged as a popular alternative to braces, especially in adult patients. It's a clear plastic aligner tray that can be removed at any time from the mouth. The patient simply puts it over the teeth, and it makes adjustments over time, similarly to braces. Many orthodontists have found that Invisalign takes longer to correct bite problems (3 to 6 months), and some recommend them for only minor problems. The device is generated using computer modeling and has to be custom ordered from a company in California. This can increase the wait time before beginning treatment by a couple of months. The Invisalign device averages about $5,000 in the United States, so it's slightly cheaper than braces.
Some patients have been known to have allergic reactions to dental braces. The metal, ceramic and plastic materials sometimes irritate the inside of the mouth. Gum disease should be fully treated before braces are applied, because it can cause the gums and bone structure to break down. In extreme cases, this can result in tooth loss.
Root resorption is another complication that braces can cause. The roots of the teeth can become shortened during the treatment. More severe cases of resorption can actually cause a tooth to die.
It will take about 2 weeks to get over the initial discomfort of having dental braces installed. Your teeth may be sore for a few days, and braces may irritate your tongue, gums and the inside of your mouth until you get used to them. Your orthodontist will give you a soft wax to place over any brackets that are bothering you. You may experience mild pain and discomfort when adjustments are made to the braces. Over-the-counter pain medications can be used to counteract this.
It's especially important to follow good oral hygiene when you have braces. You'll have to take extra care in brushing and flossing your teeth, and you should keep up with regular visits to your dentist and orthodontist. You may be asked to avoid certain foods that can get stuck in the wires of your braces, such as popcorn and chewing gum. You'll also need to wear a protective mouth guard if you participate in any rigorous sports.
When your braces are finally removed, you may have to wear a retainer for a while. Even though your bite will have been adjusted, the bone and gums may require some additional time to settle in around the new position of your teeth. The length of time for wearing a retainer will vary.
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