Orthodontic Treatment Definitions and Terms: A Dictionary of Parts & Procedures

When you go to an orthodontist consultation or visit, you might hear a plethora of unfamiliar orthodontic terms relating to diagnostics, appliances, and procedures. While we strongly encourage you to ask your orthodontist to elaborate on anything you don’t understand, it’s still important to have the information you need to be well-informed about what to expect at an orthodontic consultation and from your orthodontic treatment. So, we have compiled an orthodontic dictionary of common terms that you might hear your orthodontist say when discussing your evaluation and treatment.

Orthodontic Diagnostic Terms

Cephalometric X-Rays: Imaging taken of the head (typically from a side view) that displays skeletal structure that allows orthodontists to determine if the alignment and growth of the teeth will or will not require orthodontic treatment.

Congenitally Missing Teeth: Permanent teeth that, due to genetics or other medical reasons, do not develop or exist at all.

Crossbite: When teeth are misaligned from a side-to-side view (i.e. a tooth on the top is closer to the tongue and is on the inside of the corresponding tooth on the bottom) when the jaw is closed.

Impression: A diagnostic process that includes the patient biting into a container that holds a liquid-rubber-like material. This material then hardens outside the mouth, and the orthodontist uses it as a mold to create a casting of your teeth.

Malocclusion: Any instance in which teeth do not fit together properly.

Open Bite: Occurs when teeth do not touch each other when the mouth is closed. This typically occurs in cases where the front teeth touch but the back teeth do not, or vice versa.

Overbite: When the upper teeth severely overlap the lower teeth.

Panoramic X-Rays: A medical image that shows a skeletal view taken by a machine that moves around the head. The produced image displays all of the teeth and both jaws.

Underbite: Occurs when the lower teeth overlap in front of the upper teeth.

Wax Bite: A diagnostic tool that consists of a thin sheet of wax. The patient bites down on the wax, leaving an imprint of their bite alignment. Orthodontists use this to align dental impressions.

Appliance and Orthodontic Parts Terms

Appliance: Any device designed to move the teeth, hold the teeth in place, or adjust the position of the jaw. These devices can be attached permanently or semi-permanently to the teeth or they can be removable.

Archwire: A metal wire that is attached to the brackets and guides or causes the movement of teeth.

Band: A thin metal ring that secures orthodontic appliances to the teeth, keeping them anchored and properly placed.

Bracket:  Small metal or ceramic components that are bonded to the teeth (or to bands that adhere to the teeth) that keep the archwires in place and help guide the teeth into position.

Chain: A stretchable elastic or plastic chain of O-rings that are placed around the brackets to hold the archwire in place and to help guide the movement of teeth.

Elastics: Rubber bands that provide individual tooth movement or jaw alignment, which are placed and removed by the patient at prescribed times, by applying steady, gentle force to encourage said adjustments.

Fixed Retainer: A retainer attached to the teeth (typically on the back of the teeth, also known as the lingual space) to maintain the alignment of the teeth after orthodontic treatment. It cannot be removed by the patient and does not need to be removed while eating.

Functional Appliance: An appliance that uses the force of movement and muscle action that occurs while speaking, eating, and swallowing to aid in the movement and alignment of teeth and jaws.

Invisalign: Clear plastic aligners that are molded to the shape of the teeth and designed to gently apply pressure to guide teeth towards the desired position. They can be removed for eating, but it is recommended that they are worn at least 22 hours a day.

Lip Bumper: An appliance consisting of a wire that extends from a lower molar on one side of the mouth to a lower molar on the other side, resting across the front teeth with a rubber or acrylic shield that protects the lip from irritation. The movement of the lips from speaking and eating cause pressure that forces the lower molars to move back, creating space for the lower front teeth without the need for extractions.

Mouthguard: A rubber or plastic device that can be placed on the teeth during activities like sports to protect the teeth and jaw from impacts. They are particularly important for orthodontic patients.

Palatal Expander: A device used on the palate (roof of the mouth) to help widen the upper jaw.

Removable Retainer: A device made of plastic and wire molded to the shape of the patient’s mouth. It is used to maintain the alignment achieved through orthodontic treatment and can be removed while eating.

Separators: A component of braces made of either plastic or metal that an orthodontist uses to create space between the teeth for the bands to fit.

Tongue Crib: An appliance fitting into the mouth to discourage a patient from pushing their tongue against their teeth or other habits that may cause misalignment in the teeth or supporting bone.

Wax: Used to coat the brackets when braces are first attached in order to prevent irritation of the inside of the lips and cheeks.

Orthodontic Procedure Terms

Adjustment: A change made to your braces after an evaluation to keep your treatment moving forward according to your treatment plan.

Banding: Attaching the bands to the teeth.

Bonding: Attaching the brackets to the teeth or the bands (depending on the situation).

Debonding: Safely removing the brackets from the teeth and removing the adhesive.

Phase 1 Treatment: Treatment that begins in younger orthodontic patients to create a foundation for future dental and facial development before all of the permanent teeth have erupted, sometimes known as “preventive treatment”.

Phase 2 Treatment: Treatment that begins after all of the permanent teeth have erupted and are in place, sometimes called “interceptive treatment”.

Take Your Next Step

We hope that this orthodontic dictionary helps you feel more comfortable and informed about your braces treatment now and in the future. If you have any questions, want to know more about your orthodontic treatment options, or are ready to schedule a consultation, please contact BB Braces Braces at 770-222-2322 or fill out our online form here.