Do I Need Braces? 12 Signs You Should Visit an Orthodontist

How do I know if I need braces? If you’ve been wondering this, you’re not alone. As an Oak Ridge and Wayne orthodontist one of the first things patients ask is, “Do I need braces?” Or, “Do I need Invisalign?” While the only way to find out for certain if you do need braces or Invisalign® is to visit a certified specialist in orthodontics for an evaluation, there are things that can be a good indication you would benefit from orthodontic treatment. 

Here are 12 signs you or your child should visit an orthodontist:

  1. You have crowded or crooked teeth.

If your teeth are crowded, it’s because you don’t have enough space in your jaw to accommodate them. The teeth might then twist, overlap, or shift forward or back in an effort to squeeze in. 

What causes crooked teeth? Most often, genetics is behind crowding. If both of your parents had crowded, crooked teeth, you’re more likely to have them. Alternatively, you can inherit large teeth from one parent and a small jaw from the other. Crowding can also be caused by the premature loss of baby teeth and oral habits like prolonged thumb sucking

Unfortunately, teeth don’t usually straighten out on their own, and, if not treated, crowding will get worse as you get older. Crowded teeth are harder to effectively brush and floss, which increases your risk of tooth decay and gum disease and can cause bad breath. Teeth that stick out or are at odd angles are more susceptible to trauma and damage. 

Crowding can impact your bite (the way the upper and lower teeth fit together) too, potentially causing jaw pain and headaches, excessive wear of the enamel, as well as difficulties with chewing and speaking. 

  1. You have gaps between your teeth.

Spacing, sometimes referred to as “gap teeth,” is when you have spaces, or gaps, between two or more teeth. Gaps between the teeth can be caused by the teeth being too narrow for the jaw, which is genetic, missing teeth, or prolonged thumb sucking and other oral habits.

While, of course, gaps between the teeth are a cosmetic concern, the spaces also tend to trap food and plaque, increasing the risk of tooth decay. Spacing can have a negative impact on the health of your gums as well and, in certain cases, cause jawbone loss.

  1. Your front teeth stick out.

If your top teeth stick out or flare out over the bottom teeth, it’s known as overjet. Overjet teeth can be genetic or caused by oral habits, including tongue thrust, prolonged pacifier use, and thumb sucking. 

Overjet teeth, or protruding teeth, are more likely to be damaged. When the teeth stick out, it can also make it hard to properly produce certain speech sounds and can cause difficulty biting into food and chewing. 

  1. You have a problem with your bite (the way the upper and lower teeth come together), such as:
  • Excessive Overbite

Almost everyone has some degree of overbite. However, when the top teeth cover too much of the bottom teeth, it’s known as an excessive overbite, or deep bite. In extreme cases, the bottom teeth can even bite into the roof of the mouth. 

A deep bite can be genetic, and the result of irregularities in jawbone growth. An overbite can also develop due to overcrowding or from external factors like teeth grinding (bruxism), thumb sucking, and prolonged pacifier use.

  • Underbite

An underbite is when your lower jaw extends beyond your upper jaw, and your bottom teeth are in front of your top teeth when your mouth is closed. As with other orthodontic problems, an underbite is usually genetic. It happens when the lower jaw grows at a faster rate than the upper jaw. 

When a patient has an underbite, their bottom front teeth are more likely to be damaged and can chip or wear down. Since the jaw isn’t in the correct position, it puts stress on the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) and chewing muscles and can lead to TMJ pain and dysfunction, headaches, earaches, and other complications. Underbites can also cause eating and chewing difficulties, problems with speech, and airway and breathing issues. 

  • Crossbite

What is a crossbite? A crossbite is when some of the bottom teeth are in front of the top teeth. A crossbite can involve one tooth or multiple teeth and can occur in the front of the mouth (anterior crossbite) or the back of the mouth (posterior crossbite). 

Crossbites can be genetic or the result of thumb sucking, reverse swallowing, the delayed loss of baby teeth, or a problem with the eruption of the permanent teeth. 

If not treated, a crossbite can cause excessive wear of certain teeth and lopsided jaw growth. Patients also often compensate by shifting their jaw to one side, leading to permanent changes in the facial structure, as well as jaw pain and TMJ disorders. 

  • Open bite

If your top and bottom teeth don’t make contact when the jaws are closed, you’re said to have an open bite. An anterior open bite is most common. This is when the back teeth touch, but the front upper and lower teeth don’t meet. However, a posterior open bite can happen too. With a posterior open bite, the back teeth don’t make contact when the front teeth meet. 

An open bite can be caused by prolonged, excessive thumb sucking, tongue thrust, or mouth breathing. If not treated, it makes it hard to chew, bite, and swallow and can cause speech problems. 

  1. You’ve never visited an orthodontist before.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends kids have their first orthodontic evaluation no later than age 7. If you’ve never been to an orthodontist before or your child is approaching 7, consider making an appointment for a consultation. 

Why age 7? Well, at this point kids have their first permanent molars, establishing the back of the bite. This gives me a good idea of how their permanent teeth will come in and how their bite is shaping up. While most kids won’t need treatment this young, if certain red flags are spotted, intervening early with phase 1 orthodontic treatment could be recommended. 

With phase 1 treatment, also called early orthodontic treatment or early interceptive orthodontic treatment, I use certain appliances to guide jaw growth and/or proper eruption of the permanent teeth while a child is still growing. This makes later treatment easier, faster, and more affordable, and it can help prevent the need for extractions or corrective jaw surgery. 

Even if your 7th birthday has long passed, it’s not too late to see an orthodontist. Correcting malocclusion (bad bite) will minimize complications and improve your oral health and confidence at any age.

  1. You stopped wearing your retainer and your teeth shifted after past treatment.

Wearing a retainer after braces or Invisalign is the key to maintaining your results. Most patients eventually transition to wearing their retainer a few nights per week for life. If you stop using it, your teeth will shift back towards their old places. 

If you did experience teeth shifting after past braces or Invisalign treatment, there are plenty of options to get your smile back to where it was. If shifting is minimal and you’re happy with your smile and bite, I can make you a new retainer. Your retainer won’t move your teeth, but it will hold them where they are and stop any further changes.

If you want to shift your teeth back into place, braces or Invisalign treatment followed by wearing a retainer will do the trick. In a lot of cases of orthodontic relapse, comprehensive braces treatment isn’t necessary. Instead, I can help you get the results you’re looking for with limited Invisalign treatment. 

  1. It’s hard to brush and floss your teeth properly.

Does it seem impossible to get dental floss between some of your teeth? Is food getting stuck in the spaces? When teeth aren’t in their correct positions, it makes it harder to eliminate food debris and plaque with brushing and flossing. This, in turn, makes it more likely that you’ll develop tooth decay and gum disease. 

  1. You experience jaw or TMJ pain and stiffness.

Your chewing system involves a complex relationship between the teeth, jawbone, temporomandibular joints, and facial muscles. When your teeth or jaw aren’t properly aligned, it impacts these other components and may put stress on the TMJ and muscles. 

When this happens, you can have difficulty or discomfort when biting or chewing. If the TMJ is affected, inflammation can result, followed by stiffness, pain, having a hard time opening and closing the mouth, and popping or clicking noises. You might also experience headaches, ear aches, facial pain, and even neck aches. Creating harmony between all of the components of the chewing system will reduce pain and improve function. 

Sometimes, jaw pain can also be the result of teeth grinding and clenching, technically called bruxism. People who have crooked teeth or a bite issue are more likely to grind their teeth. In these cases, orthodontic treatment can help to stop or reduce the behavior.

  1. You have difficulty producing certain speech sounds.

While many speech disorders are tied to things like motor production issues and hearing difficulties, sometimes, speech difficulties are actually because of orthodontic problems. In order to produce certain speech sounds, the teeth have to effectively control airflow. Other sounds rely on the tongue touching the teeth in a specific way or having enough room to move freely in the mouth. 

Spaces or gaps between the front teeth, an excessive overbite, or an open bite often cause a lisp or whistling noise when speaking, while other types of malocclusion make it hard to articulate consonants. If you bite into the roof of your mouth, have a narrow palate that doesn’t let the tongue move freely, or bite the tongue or cheeks when talking, speech can also sound slurred. 

  1. Oral habits like thumb sucking, pacifier use, tongue thrust, or mouth breathing continued past toddlerhood.

Oral habits, including prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use, tongue thrust (reverse swallowing), and chronic mouth breathing can cause changes in the jaw and misaligned teeth. While many kids stop habits on their own between ages 2 and 4, if the habits are aggressive (i.e., you hear a popping noise when your child takes their thumb out of their mouth) or long lasting, orthodontic problems are more likely to occur.

In children, if efforts to get them to stop a habit aren’t effective, an orthodontist can place a habit-breaking appliance to break the habit and prevent issues with growth and development. For adults and teens whose childhood habits have already caused issues with the teeth, jaw, or airway, orthodontic treatment will correct the problem.

Do I Need Braces? 12 Signs You Should Visit an Orthodontist 1
  1. Some of your teeth are wearing down.

Over time, tooth enamel often erodes a bit due to everyday wear and tear. When the bite forces are evenly distributed among your teeth, this erosion is minimal. However, when the upper and lower teeth don’t come together properly, the teeth that do meet bear the brunt of your chewing forces and wear down prematurely. This impacts your oral health and changes how your smile looks. 

  1. You’re unhappy with the appearance of your smile. 

Whether you’re not thrilled with the alignment of your teeth, you have an issue like a gummy smile, or your jaws or teeth are out of proportion with the rest of your face, orthodontics could be the solution. 

Though the health benefits of braces and Invisalign treatment are important, the cosmetic benefits are just as valid. When you love your smile and you’re not afraid to show it off, you get a huge boost in confidence and self-esteem that carries over into all areas of your life. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the signs you need braces or Invisalign. Even if your teeth look relatively straight, you could still have subtle problems with your bite that can cause complications in the future. It’s always in your best interest to have an orthodontic evaluation. 

What Can Braces and Invisalign Treat?

Now that we’ve gone over the signs you might need orthodontic treatment, let’s talk about what braces and Invisalign can treat. When it comes to how to fix an overbite, crowded teeth, or any other smile concerns, braces and Invisalign are effective in the vast majority of cases. Depending on the situation, they could be paired with auxiliaries like rubber bands to help bring the bite into alignment, while the teeth in each arch are being straightened. 

Even though early intervention in childhood can make treatment easier and bring about more dramatic results for certain issues, particularly skeletal concerns like an underbite, orthodontics has really evolved. These days, we can treat more cases than ever before without surgery or bulky appliances at any age. 

My team and I offer braces for kids, teenagers, and adults. And, as an Invisalign expert and the leading Oak Ridge and Wayne Invisalign provider, almost everyone is a candidate for clear aligners at Smile Experience Orthodontics. Nearly all problems that can be fixed with braces can be fixed with Invisalign, including those that are complex. 

Find Out Your Options for Oak Ridge or Wayne Braces and Invisalign Treatment
If you’ve been trying to figure out if you need braces or Invisalign, schedule a complimentary consultation at Smile Experience Orthodontics in Wayne or Oak Ridge, NJ. After taking diagnostic records and performing an exam, I can determine if you need orthodontic treatment and create a personalized treatment plan that fits your needs.