For many people, braces are about creating a straight, attractive smile. But for other people, there are serious problems with the way the jaw and teeth are functioning together. In these cases, we have to take a different approach to your braces treatment. This is what we describe as functional braces: braces designed to improve the function of your teeth and bite, as well as the appearance of your smile!
Cosmetic Braces vs. Functional Braces
When you are considering orthodontics, we need to decide if your primary need is for cosmetic or functional braces. People seek cosmetic braces for a number of reasons, including:
- Crowding of front teeth
- Gaps or spaces between front teeth
- Rotated or tipped front teeth
These problems are primarily related to the appearance of the teeth. There are likely functional problems as well, such as food getting stuck between teeth or difficulty cleaning teeth, but these are secondary.
People are looking for functional braces because they’re experiencing problems such as:
- Tooth wear or breakage
- Tooth soreness or pain not associated with decay
- Difficulty chewing
- Breathing problems including snoring and sleep apnea
- Jaw pain, neck pain, and headaches associated with chewing or speaking
- Desired facial cosmetic changes in jaw size, or to correct problems caused by improper growth or development
It’s likely that there are cosmetic problems as well, either crowding or gaps in the smile, but these aren’t the primary reasons for seeking treatment.
Sometimes people are primarily focused on cosmetic problems, but there are significant functional problems that might be identified during the planning process.
Cosmetic braces can be more flexible in your treatment options. Invisalign works well for cosmetic braces. Treatments tend to be shorter and less involved. Depending on your needs, we may supplement treatment with other appliances to achieve the necessary orthodontic changes.
Functional Braces and TMJ Treatment
One of the most common applications of functional braces is as part of TMJ treatment. If you have TMJ, braces can be used as part of treatment. The goal is to take the effects of a bite splint or other short-term treatments and create permanent results that will give you a fully functional bite for life.
Functional braces will be used only after we have determined the optimal position for your bite and achieved positive results that confirm we’ve optimized your bite. Once your teeth are moved into position, we may also recommend alteration of some of the teeth to help maintain the proper bite, such as building up teeth with dental crowns. Again, we only recommend this stage of treatment after we have used fully reversible TMJ treatments to confirm the optimal bite configuration.