If your child’s orthodontist tells you that you can use your head to move teeth into better positions, he probably isn’t talking about mind-over-matter; instead, it’s likely that your child’s treatment will involve wearing a type of external orthodontic appliance called “headgear”. If you’ve ever seen orthodontic headgear, you probably recall that it has some thick wires that attach to metal braces on the teeth and then extend outside of the mouth, plus some straps that go behind the neck or over the chin or forehead. But do you know how it works, and why it may be needed?
First, let’s consider how orthodontics can move teeth at all. It may seem that teeth are fixed solidly in their positions like fence posts in a concrete sidewalk. But each tooth is actually held in place by an elastic ligament, with a network of tiny fibers that attaches it to a bony socket in the jaw. In fact, moving a tooth is more like pushing a post through the sand: Using a slow and steady force, teeth can be shifted through the constantly-regenerating bone cells in the jaw (the “sand”), which melt away in front and re-form behind the moving tooth.
With standard orthodontic braces, springy metal wires and elastic bands supply the light and constant pressure required to make teeth move. But one more thing is needed: A steady anchor or “brace” against which the force can pull. Without that, the desired tooth movement won’t occur. In many cases, the back teeth—large molars with multiple roots—can serve as an adequate anchorage point. But sometimes, they just aren’t enough.
For example, suppose a whole group of front teeth needs to be moved back a significant distance—but the back teeth can’t be allowed to move forward at all, or the bite will not be properly aligned. The force exerted between these groups of teeth is like a tug-of-war, where both sides are equally matched. But if you want the back teeth to remain in place and the front ones to move, what you’d like to do is put a sumo wrestler on the back end of the rope. And that’s where headgear comes in.
There are a few different kinds of headgear, but all have one thing in common: They use the patient’s head itself as an anchorage point in this toothy tug-of-war. Headgear lets an orthodontist get the maximum advantage from the forces being applied to bring your teeth into proper alignment. It can also help in situations where braces simply won’t work—for example, when the front teeth need to be moved forward, not back. Headgear can even have a positive influence on the growth and development of facial structures; that’s why it’s only recommended for adolescents who are still growing.
Headgear is generally worn for 12 hours every day, and it may be used for a period of several months. After that, orthodontic treatment may continue with braces, aligners, retainers, or other appliances. Sometimes it’s possible to use temporary anchorage devices (TADs) instead of headgear. These are tiny screws that are placed into the jawbone, and serve as anchors while treatment is ongoing; afterwards, they are removed. Your child’s orthodontist will recommend the best type of headgear or other devices for your child’s particular situation.
We’re not claiming that headgear is a fashion accessory—but at least it’s only needed for a short time. On the other hand, a beautiful smile is something to treasure for the rest of your life. And that’s the goal of effective orthodontic treatment. To learn more call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163.