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Is it true orthodontics can contribute to mental as well as physical health?

First impressions often are based on the appearance of a personís face, mouth and teeth. A person with a facial deformity or crooked teeth often is judged negatively not only on appearance but also on many other characteristics such as intelligence and personality.

Independent research studies also have shown that children and adults who believe their teeth or jaws are unattractive may suffer from a lack of self-esteem and confidence. In some cases, the psychological impact of crooked teeth has been found to hamper a personís social or vocational growth.

Although dental health concerns are frequently the primary impetus for orthodontic treatment, it is not unusual for treatment to be initiated for the patientís emotional well-being. In many cases, orthodontics provides both physical and psychological benefits.

SOURCE: American Association of Orthodontists

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Is orthodontic treatment expensive?

Not in comparison with the cost of dealing with untreated problems. Orthodontic treatment may bring long-term health benefits and may contribute to the avoidance of costly, serious problems later in life.

Historically, the average cost of all health services has risen faster than the average cost of orthodontic treatment. In addition, the cost of orthodontic treatment has increased significantly less than the rate of inflation, meaning the publicís buying power has gone up faster than orthodontic fees.

Millions of people are covered by group dental plans including orthodontic coverage which are offered through their employers. Typically, these plans limit the amount any one family member can collect in a lifetime.

Orthodontic fees vary widely, depending on the severity of the problem, complexity of treatment and length of treatment time. Orthodontists routinely discuss fee arrangements after individual examinations. Generally, fees may be paid over an extended period of time during the course of treatment.

SOURCE: American Association of Orthodontists

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Who needs orthodontics, and when?

Studies show that millions of Americans have oral health problems that could benefit from orthodontic treatment. Without treatment, many of these people could develop serious problems.

Although there is not a universal best age to begin orthodontic treatment, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that every child get a check-up with an orthodontic specialist no later than age 7. However, a visit at any age is advisable if a particular problem has been noted by the parent, family dentist or childís physician.

Orthodontic specialists can improve smiles at any age, but there are benefits to early diagnosis. Early examination enables the orthodontist to detect and evaluate problems and determine the most appropriate time to treat them. After the initial evaluation, the orthodontist may monitor facial growth and development by periodic checkups while the permanent teeth erupt and the face and jaws continue to grow.

In other cases, ďpreventive or interceptiveĒ treatment may be initiated to prevent more serious problems from developing. These limited measures sometimes involve the use of removable appliances. Some of the most common corrective measures in children are eliminating abnormal habits such as thumb- or finger-sucking past age two, guiding or controlling the eruption of teeth and correcting deformities in the jaws as they grow.

Early intervention may make the completion of treatment at a later age easier and less time-consuming. In some cases, early treatment achieves results that are unattainable once the face and jaws have finished growing. (Many orthodontic problems can be corrected in adults as well as children, so adults should not hesitate to consult an orthodontist to discuss a problem.)

SOURCE: American Association of Orthodontists

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What can happen if orthodontic problems go untreated?

Untreated orthodontic problems might contribute to tooth decay, diseased gums, bone destruction, temporomandibular joint problems and loss of teeth. (More adults over the age of 30 lose their teeth because of periodontal problems than because of decay.) Protruding teeth are more susceptible to accidental chipping and other forms of dental injury. Sometimes, the increased cost of dental care resulting from an untreated malocclusion (bad bite) may far exceed the cost of orthodontic care. In addition, if left untreated, malocclusion may have a negative effect on the psychological well-being of the patient.

Naturally, one feels better when one looks better, and a pleasing appearance is a vital asset to self-confidence and self-esteem. A personís self-consciousness often disappears as orthodontic treatment brings teeth, lips and face into their proper positions.

SOURCE: American Association of Orthodontists

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Do orthodontists treat temporomandibular disorders (TMD)?

Disorders of the temporomandibular joints, which connect the lower jaw to the skull, may be one of the reasons millions of people suffer from chronic headache, earache and facial pain. No other joints are subject to such precise functioning as those involved in the meeting and biting of teeth.

Symptoms frequently associated with this problem include popping, clicking or grinding noises of the jaw joints when eating or opening the mouth; soreness and limitation of opening the mouth; headaches; stiffness of the neck and shoulders; and ringing of the ears. The bizarre and seemingly unrelated combination of symptoms, however, makes diagnosis difficult for both medical and dental practitioners because many other diseases can cause similar symptoms.

Temporomandibular disorders can arise from a variety of causes. For this reason, treatment of TMD may include a variety of procedures performed by orthodontists and/or other health professionals. Although the diagnosis may be initiated by a dentist in general practice or by a specialist in orthodontics, if the symptoms are not solely related to jaw function, other conditions may need to be identified by a physician or psychologist.

SOURCE: American Association of Orthodontists

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