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The Science Behind Orthodontics: How Teeth Move and Align

The Science Behind Orthodontics: How Teeth Move and Align

As a seasoned orthodontist who treats patients of all ages at Duval Orthodontics in Warner Robins and Albany, Georgia, Dr. J. A. Duval and our skilled team know exactly what it takes to help you get straighter teeth, a realigned bite, and a flawless smile. 

As you can imagine, we field a lot of questions about orthodontic treatment, including: 

While we strive to provide helpful, in-depth answers for every question we receive, one of the questions we most enjoy answering is about the science of orthodontics, or how fixed braces and removable aligners work to gradually move your teeth and align your bite until you attain a perfect smile. Let’s take a closer look.

Understanding tooth movement

Before we explain how orthodontic treatment moves and aligns teeth, it helps to understand how teeth can move in the first place. After all, teeth are surrounded by gum tissue and firmly rooted to underlying bone tissue, both of which keep them from shifting in their sockets when you eat something hard, tough, or chewy. 

Beneath the gumline, each of your teeth is also surrounded by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament, a resilient yet malleable tissue that connects the root of each tooth to its surrounding jawbone. While the periodontal ligament helps hold each tooth firmly in place, it also enables their movement and repositioning under consistent, applied pressure.

How do teeth become crooked?

Many parents first gain insight into tooth movability from watching their child’s teeth shift into the wrong positions, often following the early tooth loss or long-term thumb sucking or pacifier use. Other causes of early crooked teeth include:

Due to the inherent flexibility of the periodontal ligament, however, tooth position can change at any age — even straight teeth can move out of place. As adults who’ve lost a tooth can attest, adjacent teeth readily shift toward the empty space when it remains unfilled by a dental implant or other restoration. 

It’s all about the applied pressure

Orthodontic treatment aims to move teeth into proper positioning and alignment through the application of gentle, consistent pressure over time. This applied pressure isn’t random — it’s carefully calculated and carried out with case-specific orthodontic appliances and an individualized treatment plan.

Fixed braces

Whether they’re clear (ceramic), metallic, lingual, or self-ligating, traditional fixed braces use brackets, bands, archwires, and elastics (ligatures or O-rings) to move teeth into their correct position and alignment. 

All these components work together as a cohesive unit to exert consistent pressure on your teeth. If your teeth need more room to move, we may add a spacer (palatal expander). If your bite is misaligned, your treatment plan may also include a Herbst

From the moment you begin wearing braces, their gentle tension begins changing the position of your teeth in specific ways. As your teeth gradually shift, your braces start to “lose their grip,” and must be tightened to keep your treatment on track. Braces adjustments typically occur every four to six weeks.

Removable aligners

Like fixed braces, Invisalign® removable aligners use applied force to make incremental changes in tooth position. Each custom aligner is fabricated to make specific prescribed changes, straightening your teeth and transforming your smile one step at a time.

Using sophisticated 3D imaging and specialized computer software, we create an efficient digital road map to your new smile which we translate into a detailed orthodontic treatment plan that informs the creation of your custom aligners. You wear each aligner for one to two weeks before moving on to the next aligner in the series. 

Why you need to wear a retainer

As orthodontic treatment shifts your teeth in their sockets, their periodontal ligaments stretch on one side and compress on the other. Once your teeth reach their new position, new bone tissue fills the gap around the socket to help your teeth maintain proper alignment indefinitely. 

Wearing a retainer for a set period after your braces or aligners come off gives your underlying bone tissue the support it needs to rebuild itself as it holds your teeth in their new, correct positions.

A full scope of orthodontic solutions

If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, we have answers. To learn more, call your nearest Duval Orthodontics office in Warner Robins or Albany, Georgia, today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Duval any time.

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