An orthodontic appliance is any device used to adjust the shape or alignment of teeth or jaw structure. Orthodontic appliances come in a wide variety of styles depending on which specific orthodontic issue needs addressed. Some devices are required to be attached onto the teeth or inside the mouth to be most effective, while others are removable by the patient.
One of the most common types of fixed orthodontic appliances are braces, in which small ceramic or metal brackets are bonded to the center of the teeth. A metal wire is then ran horizontally through the brackets to connect them. The wire lightly pushes on the teeth to slowly straighten or reposition them over time.
Fixed appliances can also be used to treat problems with jaw structure or alignment. If the jaw is too narrow, the mouth may not have enough room for all of the teeth, which can result in teeth becoming crooked or overlapped. A palatal expander is an orthodontic appliance that is used on people with overcrowded teeth. It is a thin piece of metal that fits directly across the roof of the mouth and hooks around the back molars. The metal contains a screw that is tightened each day, which slowly widens the roof of the mouth to allow more space for teeth.
Removable orthodontic appliances are devices that can easily be taken off by the patient. Headgear is a removable appliance that fixes protruding teeth caused by a narrow upper jaw. Braces or wires are fastened around the back teeth, while a removable strap called a bow is worn around the back of the neck. The braces can attach to the ends of the bow to put pressure on the jaw. The device is typically worn daily to be most effective, but can easily be detached by the patient.
Retainers are a type of orthodontic appliance that can be fixed or removable. They are generally worn after other orthodontic work has been completed in order to stabilize the teeth and prevent them from moving back to their original positions. A fixed retainer is a ceramic mold of the roof of the mouth and is permanently attached. Removable retainers are typically made from plastic that fits over the roof of the mouth and wires that attach around the back teeth. They are usually worn at night for at least nine months after orthodontic work is completed, but may be worn longer.
Orthodontic appliances can also be used for preventative reasons. A mouth guard is a removable molded piece of plastic that fits directly the teeth and is used to protect the teeth and jaws during physical activity or sports competitions. Another type of preventative appliance is the night guard, a removable piece of plastic that fits over the teeth and is worn overnight. It is generally recommended for people who grind their teeth while they sleep.