Crooked, misaligned or 'buck' teeth can affect your appearance, but that's not the only reason why so many Australian teens and adults choose orthodontic treatments to straighten their smiles.
Properly aligned teeth have both aesthetic and functional advantages. Straight teeth are easier to keep clean, allow you to eat all types of foods and can lower your risk of developing many other problems associated with protruding teeth or a misaligned bite.
If you're concerned about your teeth or your child's teeth, read this short guide to find out why straighter teeth are important for:
- Better oral health
- Better general health
- Reducing tooth wear and grinding
- Preventing dental injuries
- Helping with sleep disorders
- Preventing jaw and joint problems
- Correcting eating and speech problems
- Improving self-confidence
You can also find out about the different types of orthodontic treatments available that could help to lower your risks.
Better oral health
Straight teeth are healthier teeth. If teeth are crooked, misaligned or crowded, this can make some areas difficult to reach with a toothbrush and floss. These areas can trap pieces of food and allow plaque to build up on tooth surfaces, increasing the likelihood of tooth decay developing.
If decay isn't treated early, it can lead to cavities or an infection of the tooth. These can be extremely painful and require dental treatments such as a filling, crown or root canal to restore the tooth. If tooth decay continues, it could develop into gum disease, which can lead to receding gums and even tooth loss without treatment.
Tooth decay and gum disease don't always have obvious symptoms, so it's important to have regular dental visits. These are the chance for your dentist to catch and treat problems before they cause serious damage or affect your health.
Better general health
Problems with teeth and gums don't only affect the mouth. Oral health problems such as gum disease are also associated with a higher risk of serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions, so it's important to take care of your oral health for your general health and wellbeing.
Other issues caused by misaligned teeth may also have consequences for overall health. If your bite affects your diet, this could affect the nutrition your body receives, while sleep disorders caused by a misaligned jaw can impact on physical and mental health in many ways.
Reduce tooth wear and grinding
Tooth enamel naturally wears over time through normal use and contact with acids, but if your teeth don't bite together normally, this can cause uneven wear. Teeth that are excessively worn may feel more sensitive to temperature or may chip and crack more easily, so straightening teeth can help to restore balance in the mouth.
Uneven tooth wear can sometimes be a sign that you grind or clench your teeth. This often happens at night, so you might not be aware of it. Teeth grinding (known as bruxism) is more likely to affect people whose jaws are misaligned, and the risk of injury increases the longer the condition goes untreated.
If your dentist thinks you might have bruxism, they may recommend teeth straightening combined with other bruxism treatments to relieve the pressure on your teeth and jaws.
Prevent dental injuries
Teeth that protrude (stick out) are at greater risk of injury from impacts to the mouth, such as sport injuries, motor vehicle accidents, falling over or biting into hard foods. This increases the chances of needing an emergency dentist if a tooth is chipped, cracked or knocked out.
Wearing a mouthguard during sport normally helps to protect teeth, but standard mouthguards won't be an option if you have protruding teeth, and your dentist might not be able to create a custom mouthguard if you have a more severe alignment problem.
Braces and other orthodontic treatments can apply force to protruding teeth to bring them in line and lower the risk of dental injuries. Other orthodontic conditions such as overbite and impaction may also cause injuries or irritation in the mouth without treatment.
Help with sleep disorders
Teeth alignment can also affect breathing and sleep quality if the jaw partially blocks the airway. These abnormalities can usually be detected early and may be treated with early intervention orthodontics in childhood, but without treatment they can continue to be a problem though to adulthood.
If your breathing is interrupted frequently in the night, causing you to suddenly wake up choking and gasping, you may have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). This is a serious sleep disorder that can lead to headaches, tiredness and problems with memory and concentration, as well as having associated health and mental health risks.
If your dentist thinks your sleep apnoea may be linked to an orthodontic issue, they may recommend orthodontic treatment in combination with other sleep apnoea treatments. This may involve wearing a bite splint at night, pressurised air therapies such as CPAP, or jaw surgery in more severe cases.
Prevent jaw and joint problems
Crooked or misaligned teeth can also cause strain on the upper or lower jaws and the joints connecting them (temporomandibular joints, or TMJ). This can lead to pain in the jaw, head and neck, as well as difficulties using the jaw to open and close the mouth for talking and eating. TMJ disorders can also be a reason for teeth grinding.
Straightening teeth may relieve stress on the jaws and TMJ, but sometimes other treatments may also be needed, such as jaw expansion, jaw exercises or surgery in extreme cases.
Correct eating and speech problems
Improperly aligned teeth may affect your ability to bite, chew and grind certain types of foods comfortably. If this causes you to avoid certain foods in your diet, your body might not be getting the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs.
Teeth alignment issues that affect the position of the tongue may also affect your ability to form some speech sounds or may produce a lisp. Straightening teeth combined with tongue exercises or speech therapy can usually correct these issues.
We said at the start that appearance wasn't the only reason to consider straightening teeth, but that doesn't mean it's not important. People of all ages can feel self-conscious about having crooked or misaligned teeth, and this can affect their personal and professional lives in many ways – from school to the workplace and social and romantic relationships.
Studies have found that having orthodontic treatment to straighten teeth can improve body image and mental health. A 2018 study of teenagers and adults aged 14 to 46 found that symptoms of anxiety and depression were reduced and quality of life improved for subjects after straightening their smiles.
How can I straighten my teeth?
If you're concerned about your teeth or your child's teeth, you should make an appointment with an orthodontist or a dentist who has orthodontic training and experience. Your dentist may also discuss orthodontics when they examine your mouth during your routine check-up.
During your orthodontic consultation, your dentist or orthodontist will give you or your child a full orthodontic assessment. This normally involves taking x-rays or other images of your mouth and jaws so they can see exactly what the situation is and plan treatments more effectively.
When they've determined what the cause of your orthodontic issue is, your dentist or orthodontist will recommend the most appropriate treatments that could help you to bring your teeth or jaws into proper alignment and lower the associated risks.
What are the options?
Your dentist or orthodontist should give you all the information you need about the treatments they offer, so you can make fully informed decisions. Suitable treatments will depend on how much straightening is needed and what suits your price range and lifestyle.
- Metal braces – still the most effective orthodontic treatment when more serious straightening is required, modern metal braces are smaller and more comfortable than the bulky 'train tracks' of the past.
- 'Invisible' braces – if you don't want people to notice your orthodontic treatment, more discreet alternatives to metal braces include tooth-coloured ceramic braces and lingual braces that are hidden from view behind the teeth.
- Clear aligners – if you prefer a more discreet and convenient treatment than braces, options such as Invisalign® clear aligners could be the answer. These transparent aligners fit comfortably over the teeth and can be removed for eating and teeth cleaning.
- Kids' orthodontics – while braces treatments normally begin in adolescence, early intervention using removable plates or fixed expansion appliances can help to guide the development of teeth and jaws and prevent more serious correction being needed later.
Orthodontics isn't normally covered by health insurance or government benefits, but you can ask your dentist if they offer payment plans to help you manage your orthodontic costs.
Book an orthodontic consultation on the Gold Coast
If you or your child are interested in orthodontics, Robina Town Dental offers free consultations for all ages at our Gold Coast dental clinic.
Call us on 07 5575 9100 to book your appointment today or visit us at Robina Town Shopping Centre to find out how we could help you to straighten your smile.
Better Health Channel. Orthodontic treatment [Online] 2019 [Accessed August 2020] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/orthodontic-treatment
Healthdirect. Orthodontic treatments [Online] 2019 [Accessed August 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/orthodontic-treatments
Imani MM, Jalali A, Dinmohammadi M, Nouri P. The Effect of Orthodontic Intervention on Mental Health and Body Image. Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2018;6(6):1132–1137. Published 2018 Jun 17. doi:10.3889/oamjms.2018.243