The Anatomy of Orthodontics

For those of us who haven’t gone to school for dentistry or orthodontics, some of the terms your provider may use can be a bit confusing. As a patient it’s important to understand how different parts of the mouth work together to create healthy teeth. From the jaw up to the tooth, each part inside the mouth is important to a healthy smile! It’s always beneficial for a patient or a parent of a patient to know a bit more about what’s going on behind the scenes during treatment. Dr. Joseph Porter at Porter Orthodontics share important topics to know before heading into a consult. 


The Tooth

Many people don’t know this, but teeth are joints too! The space where the tooth connects to the jaw and gums is a joint called a gomphosis. The tooth is the only example of this variety of joints in the human body. A gomphosis joint is similar to a peg in a hole and is a stationary joint, which means it is not capable of movement on its own. The part of the jawbone that the teeth connect to is the alveolar bone, and is part of the tooth joint system. Essentially, it moves your teeth when you chew, swallow, or talk. 

The tooth itself is composed of four layers of tissue. Three of these layers are hard tissue, which means they are calcified. The enamel, dentin, and cementum make up the hard parts of the tooth, while the pulp, a soft tissue, houses the nerves present on the inside of the tooth. The pulp is the only layer of soft tissue within the tooth. The cementum covers the root of the tooth below the gum line.


The Jaw

The jaw and the bones, muscles, and joints that make up the jaw are important to the structure of the face and are the foundation of your bite. Many issues with pain and headaches from the mouth area actually come from the jaw. The National Institutes of Health estimate that 5 to 10% of adults have a jaw disorder.  

One of the largest concerns in orthodontics health surprisingly has little to do with your teeth. The fit of the upper and lower jaw bones is a big part of your orthodontic health. The upper jaw, or maxilla, is the stationary bone of the jaw. It connects to the lower jaw, or mandible at the temple to form the joint of the jaw. The mandible is the moveable half of the jaw joint, more formally known as the temporomandibular joint. 

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is an articulate joint, meaning it moves, unlike your teeth. Both the upper and lower jaws are in halves that meet in the center of the face when properly aligned. This centering of the jaw halves is an essential part of the health of your bite. Misalignment of the jaw can lead to muscle stress when swallowing, chewing, and sleeping, and can result in a diagnosed jaw disorder. Unusual tooth stress can hurt enamel and cause wear on teeth prematurely, causing cavities and decay. 


 Orthodontic Movement

The upper teeth and lower teeth having a healthy and centered bite is the primary goal of orthodontics. Orthodontics focuses on fixing malocclusion,the misalignment of the bite. This can occur in many ways, and for numerous reasons. To treat malocclusion, orthodontists use a variety of appliances, braces, or even tooth extraction if necessary. 

Moving teeth is a slow process because it involves the destruction and formation of bone. To forge a path for a tooth in the direction an orthodontist would like, bone cells must destroy existing alveolar bone, and fill in the bone as the tooth moves. For optimal timing and health, teeth should move about a millimeter a month. It may seem like a short distance, but this movement greatly improves health and the structure of the facial bones.  

After treatment, because the new bone needs to mature to prevent relapse, a retainer is necessary. For more information about retainers and how and why they work, please see our website and blog. As always please feel free to call and schedule an appointment if you have questions or concerns. We are always available to answer any of your questions, please feel free to give our office a call if you have concerns or a case-specific inquiry and we’ll be happy to schedule an appointment or answer right away!

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