Whether you’re an adult who didn’t get braces as a kid or a teenager and it seems like everyone is getting braces around you, it’s normal to ask yourself: why not me too?
If your front teeth are straight, you or your parents may have decided that you don’t need braces. But there’s more to a good bite than straight teeth. A good bite affects the way you eat and speak, how your face looks and how your teeth maintain their shape over time.
So it’s important that you actually see an orthodontist to determine whether you need braces or not, and not just go with your intuition.
In this article, we’re going to cover the types of malocclusions that need braces, how long your orthodontic treatment may take, and whether it’s a good idea to get braces for cosmetic purposes only, even if you already have straight teeth.
Why would straight teeth need braces?
You could have straight teeth and still have a serious malocclusion that affects the shape of your face, or the ways your jaws or lips function. In fact, you could have perfectly straight teeth and need jaw surgery because your jaws don’t fit together properly.
Here are the main types of malocclusions (incorrect bites) that determine whether you need braces or not:
Deep bite. Your top teeth cover your bottom teeth all the way to the gums. This causes periodontal disease over time, because of the traumatic way your bottom incisors bite behind your top incisors.
Open bite. Your top teeth and bottom teeth don’t meet at all. Sometimes, the lack of contact only affects the front teeth, and other times, teeth don’t touch all the way to the molars. This affects the way you eat and speak, and also your teeth may weaken from the lack of use.
Overbite. Your top teeth are too far forward compared to the bottom teeth. You may have trouble closing your teeth because of this. Overbite (or overjet) puts you at risk for incisor trauma, not to mention you can’t bite into food properly.
Underbite. Your bottom teeth are too far forward compared to your top teeth. It affects the way you bite into things, and you may struggle to close your lips together. Underbite patients are also very self-conscious of the way their chin looks since it’s a skeletal problem.
Crossbite. Crossbites often go unnoticed, especially crossbites in your back teeth. While you may feel fine, your dentist may recommend that you see an orthodontist. Crossbites complicate things when you’re an adult and need bridges or extensive dental restorations.
Midline shift. A midline shift is when the lower arch midline (the contact between your bottom central incisors), doesn’t line up with the upper arch midline. This means that either your arches or your jaws are asymmetrical, which is often difficult to fix and may require surgery. Midline shifts may affect the way you chew food but can especially affect the temporomandibular joint.
TMJ problems. Your jaw may be clicking, get stuck when you open your mouth, or you may have headaches and pain at ear level. Many of the malocclusions mentioned above can cause TMJ issues, even if your teeth are straight. Jaw repositioning with braces can give you some much-needed relief.
Missing teeth. As soon as you get a tooth extracted, the neighboring teeth tend to lean into the extraction space. This makes it difficult for your dentist to place an implant and a crown. The best thing to do is to get braces (even partial braces) to restore the space and function that were lost.
The good news is that you can get braces as an adult, if you didn’t have the chance to get a proper diagnosis as a kid. The best age to get braces is during preadolescence, but I love treating my adult patients because they’re much more attentive and responsible with their braces.
If your teeth are already straight, will you have braces for a shorter amount of time?
Usually, the answer is no. You won’t spend less time in braces just because you have straight teeth. Fine-tuning straight teeth is often more difficult than straightening crooked ones, especially if you have bite issues.
Also, correcting jaws that don’t fit together may even require extractions, surgery or both. Having straight teeth is not a guarantee that everything is fine, so it’s best to see a specialist.
Orthodontic treatment takes 18 to 24 months on average, but it can take much longer than that. Either way, don’t expect to stay in braces for less than 2 years, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you get your braces off early.
Who do you ask if you need braces or not?
So how do you find out if you have a malocclusion, and who decides if you’re a good candidate for braces?
The first step is to ask your dentist. Your dentist has a minimum of 6 years of formal training, so he or she will easily identify if your bite doesn’t look normal. They may refer you to an orthodontist or offer to treat you themselves.
The alternative is to go straight to an orthodontist’s office if you’ve identified with one of the malocclusions described above. For moderate to severe bite problems, it’s best to be treated by a certified orthodontist.
Why an orthodontist and not a dentist? Because an orthodntist has a minimum of 3 extra years of residency under their belt compared to a dentist, not to mention multiple courses and certifications. Orthodontists understand the complexities of bite problems and how to move teeth with precision.
Your orthodontist will also be able to recommend the best type of braces for your needs: whether it’s ceramic braces, clear aligners or classic metal braces.
Can you get braces if you don’t need them?
I’ve seen many patients, especially teens eagerly wait for their braces like they were this amazing piece of jewlery on their teeth.
Yes, I’m an orthodontist and it’s my job to promote braces to people who need them. But, as doctors, we really shouldn’t be putting braces on patients who don’t need them, even if they really want them.
Do you love the look of ceramic braces? Do you like seeing the fun color combinations on metal braces? Are all your friends getting them and you’re feeling left out? If your teeth are fine, you should be grateful – many people would want to be in your position.
Let me give you some inside information on what braces are really like:
- Braces hurt. Your teeth will hurt, wires will poke your cheeks and you won’t be able to go anywhere without dental wax.
- You need to brush after every meal. Food all over your braces is not a nice look.
- If you don’t brush after every meal, you will have: bleeding gums, bad breath, stains on your teeth, and your teeth will turn yellow.
- You won’t be able to stop treatment just because you’re bored. It doesn’t work like that, and you have to wait for your treatment to be complete and your bite to be settled.
- People will make fun of you. Because some people are just mean like that, and not everyone will share your fascination with braces.
- Because it’s expensive. Imagine what you or your parents could do with that money.
Okay, if you’re reading this and you actually need braces, I hope I didn’t scare you off. Straight beautiful teeth are still worth it, but it’s only fair that patients know what’s ahead of them.
That being said, don’t get braces if you don’t need them. Just don’t, you’ll thank me later.
Can braces mess up your teeth if they are already straight?
You may have straight teeth and worry that the braces your orthodontist recommended will mess them up. While there’s some truth to that, it’s not the actual braces that can mess up nice, straight teeth. Here’s what I mean:
Your braces are designed to give you a nice, wide, straight smile. They will do just that, and your teeth will be even straighter and more homogenous. However, braces work by making your teeth loose inside the bone, and they will stay loose for a while.
It’s really important that you wear your retainers post-treatment as instructed by your orthodontist, especially during the first year after braces. Not wearing your retainers may cause some shifting because of the reasons described above. The shifting shouldn’t be too bad, but it will no longer be the ‘perfection’ you expected from your orthodontic treatment.
Hopefully, you’ve had all your questions answered about getting braces with straight teeth. It’s a big decision, but you won’t be doing this alone. You deserve a good bite and beautiful teeth, and your orthodontist will be there to remind you that you’re doing this for your health.