Orthodontic treatment (usually with braces) is most often used to improve the appearance and alignment of crooked, protruding or crowded teeth, and to correct problems with the bite of the teeth.
Why orthodontics is used
The benefits of orthodontics can include:
- correction of dental crowding and straightening of your teeth
- correction of your bite so the front and back teeth meet evenly
- reducing the chance of damage to prominent teeth
- improving your appearance, including your smile
Many people have crowded or crooked teeth, or their teeth don’t meet correctly when they bite. These problems can mean the teeth are more likely to become damaged or put a strain on jaw muscles.
In some cases, abnormal development of the teeth and jaw can affect the shape of the face.
Who can have orthodontics
Orthodontic treatment is usually only started after most of a child’s adult teeth have started to come through.
This is usually when they’re about 12 years old, but depends on the number of adult teeth and the growth of their face and jaws.
Orthodontic treatment for adults can begin at any age, but the treatment options are more limited.
Treatment also won’t begin unless you have a good standard of oral hygiene as orthodontic treatment can increase the risk of tooth decay.
Types of orthodontic treatment
Orthodontics mainly uses braces 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, or have small pins placed temporarily in the jaw as well as a brace. You may also need to have some teeth removed as part of your treatment.
The length of treatment will depend on how complicated the problem is, but it’s usually between 18 and 24 months.
Read about the types of orthodontic treatment.
Accessing orthodontic treatment
In most cases, your dentist will refer you to an orthodontist, 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.
You can find a list of all specialist orthodontists registered in the UK on the General Dental Council (GDC) website.
NHS orthodontic treatment is free for people under the age of 18 with a clear health need for treatment. But because of high demand, there can be a long waiting list.
NHS orthodontic care isn’t usually available for adults, but may be approved on a case-by-case basis if needed for health reasons.
A rating system known as the Index of Orthodontic Treatment Need (IOTN) is used to assess your eligibility for NHS treatment. The British Orthodontic Society’s website has more information about the different grades used for the IOTN.
NHS treatment is available for grade 4 and grade 5 cases. Grade 3 cases are usually judged on an individual basis. Treatment may also be made available if the appearance of a person’s teeth, jaw or face is of concern.
If you don’t qualify for free NHS treatment or you don’t want to wait for treatment to start, you may choose to have private treatment.
Private orthodontic treatment is widely available, but expensive. The fee can range from £2,000 to £6,000, depending on the complexity of the treatment and the type of appliances used, but fees can be higher.
A private orthodontist will estimate the treatment cost after an initial assessment of the problem.
The BOS has an online service you can use to find orthodontic treatment in your area.
Taking care of your teeth
A common complication of orthodontics is tooth decay. You can get tooth decay when acid is produced from plaque, which builds up on your teeth.
Many people with appliances find it difficult to keep their teeth clean, so extra brushing is essential during treatment.
Your orthodontist may recommend using toothpaste with high levels of fluoride, or a mouthwash that contains fluoride, to reduce your risk of decay. You should also try to avoid sugary foods and fizzy drinks.
Read about how to take care of your teeth.