Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that specializes in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. The technical term for these problems is "malocclusion," which means "bad bite." The practice of orthodontics requires professional skill in the design, application and control of corrective appliances, such as braces, to bring teeth, lips and jaws into proper alignment and to achieve facial balance.
Patients with orthodontic problems can benefit from treatment at nearly any age. An ideal time for placement of braces is between 10 and 14 years of age, while the head and mouth are still growing and teeth are more accessible to straightening. However, more and more adults are also wearing braces to correct minor problems and to improve their smiles. Braces generally come in three varieties: The most popular type are brackets, metal or plastic, that are bonded to teeth and are far less noticeable. The "lingual" type of braces are brackets that attach to the back of teeth, hidden from view. Bands are the old-fashioned type that cover most of your teeth with metal bands that wrap around the teeth. All use wires to move the teeth to the desired position.
The more complicated your spacing or bite problem is, and the older you are, the longer the period of treatment, usually. Most patients can count on wearing full braces between 18 and 30 months, followed by the wearing of a retainer for at least a few months to set and align tissues surrounding straightened teeth.