Orthodontics is a specialty branch of dentistry that deals with the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of improperly positioned teeth and jaws. Orthodontists, those who practice this branch of dentistry, use pressure and corrective appliances — most commonly braces — to achieve that million-dollar smile everyone wants. While most people associate orthodontists only with crooked teeth or braces, there's more to the profession than that. In fact, many aspects of the field are fascinating, funny and surprising.
What many of us see as simply crooked teeth, an orthodontist views as an opportunity to diagnose, prevent and treat a specific case of "malocclusion," which means "bad bite." Candidates for orthodontic treatment include those with an overbite, underbite, crossbite, open bite, misplaced midline, spacing issues or crowding. Orthodontists correct these problems because malaligned or crowded teeth are not only hard to clean and unattractive, but they can cause or contribute to headaches, tooth decay, jaw conditions or gum disease.
The American Association of Orthodontists has put a number of orthodontic rumors to rest that seem to reignite with every new generation getting braces. One such false rumor is that wearing braces in a thunderstorm increases your chances of being struck by lightning. Also, braces don't set off metal detectors at airports, make you magnetic or disrupt radio signals.
Orthodontists help everyone achieve a great smile — even celebrities who need a little help looking picture-perfect. Some notable celebrities who have had the help of an orthodontist include Cher, Diana Ross, Tom Cruise, Brett Farve, Chelsea Clinton, Nicholas Cage, Whoopi Goldberg, Daisy Fuentes, Brandi and Gwen Stefani. Even fictional characters in cartoons and sitcoms sport braces, such as Ugly Betty and Marcia Brady.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, archaeologists have discovered mummified ancients with crude metal bands wrapped around individual teeth. It seems ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and other cultures strove to have nice smiles as well. Catgut, cord used by the ancient Egyptians and made from the natural fiber found in the walls of animal intestine, did the same work now performed by 21st-century orthodontic wire.
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