Is Orthodontic Headgear Really Necessary?
Updated: Aug 15, 2022
The vast majority of us all know what regular braces look like and many of us are also familiar with alignment trays like Invisalign. However, sometimes we may encounter a more unusual device that is more complicated. These devices are usually worn by children or early teens – younger orthodontic patients – and are composed of thick wires which extend outside of the mouth.
Headgear can be more obtrusive than braces, so why would we want to use them? In this article, we’ll explore some of the reasons why headgear may be necessary to create a better smile that lasts for a lifetime.
Essentially, these devices are an orthodontic appliance which serves to align teeth. These orthodontic appliances which extend outside of the mouth are collectively referred to as “headgear.” While they may be prescribed to treat a wide-ranging variety of orthodontic issues, each type of headgear has at least one major thing in common with one another. All headgear devices provide the necessary extra stability that is essential to move particularly stubborn teeth into alignment.
How Headgear Moves Teeth
Believe it or not, while your teeth may seem to be immovably anchored into your gums like mountain boulders, they can be fairly easily moved by a small amount of force applied over a long period of time. This change is possible due largely to the way they are connected to periodontal ligaments. The periodontal ligament is a flexible structure that is hammock-like in shape and holds the teeth in place. The flexibility that is inherent to the design of the periodontal ligament is what makes moving the teeth with orthodontic appliances possible.
Reasons Orthodontic Headgear May Be Necessary:
Headgear is able to provide an actor point inside the mouth that is stable. So while headgear may be more obtrusive than interior anchor points provided by braces, it is also much more effective in cases where it is necessary.
In the case where you are trying to eliminate a very large gap in the teeth, for example, it might become necessary to create a more solid anchor. In this situation, the rear teeth may be moved forward as the front teeth are moved backward, if traditional braces or alignment trays were used. Moving both the front and rear teeth could create bite or alignment problems down the road, which would be undesirable and problematic.
Sometimes the teeth might need to be moved forward rather than backward as is the more common case. In situations like this one, anchoring braces to the rear molars would not be able to help because the anchor would be on the wrong side. This creates the need for headgear to create a forward anchor point in front of the mouth.
Other Types of Headgear
Headgear that incorporates a strap around the head or neck uses the entire head as a series of anchor points. These headgear appliances actually create such a strong anchor that they are able to help with more than just dental problems – they can also help to shape key facial structures. For this reason, they are often worn by pre-teen aged children whose faces are still growing into the shape they will eventually become. This opportunity to help a child have a healthier and happier smile is one major reason why a parent might want to get headgear for their child. Despite the inconvenience and discomfort it may temporarily cause, the overall lasting effects it can create are worth the short term downsides.
Orthodontists typically prescribe headgear to be worn for a minimum of 12 hours per day, for a specified but limited length of treatment time. It is important to actually wear the headgear for the amount of time prescribed by your orthodontist, as failure to wear the headgear for this time could reduce its effectiveness or increase the overall length of time required for the treatment. By following your orthodontist’s instructions carefully, you are ensuring the treatment is as effective and smooth as possible, and that it is completed in the shortest overall time-frame possible.
What If Headgear Can’t Be Worn?
If for whatever reason headgear cannot be worn, orthodontists may prescribe a more complex setup using a device known as “TADS.” TADS stands for “Temporary Anchorage Devices,” which are tiny screws that are implanted in the jawbone temporarily in order to provide an internal anchor point other than the teeth.
While it may not look pretty or feel very good to wear, headgear is sometimes the only solution that is capable of shifting teeth into proper alignment. It is also able to create this change rather quickly as compared to other less obtrusive options. At the conclusion of the treatment, your teeth will look better, and you will have a nicer smile, which can result in improved self-confidence, speech, chewing, and comfort. These improvements, which happen during a relatively short period of time, can make a difference for the rest of your lifetime.