Dr. Greg Jorgensen
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Rio Rancho, NM 87124

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

When Do I Get My Braces Off?

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on May 19th, 2013

Woman ShruggingThe most common question I get as an orthodontist is “When do I get my braces off?” Although treatment is different for every patient, there are some basic objectives and steps of treatment that are similar for the majority of patients. If you have braces and want to know how you are progressing, read on…

In my office there are three distinct phases of treatment through which every patient must pass. Although their order may be switched or there may be some overlap between them, the three phases include resolving the crowding/spacing, aligning the teeth, and correcting the bite.

In the first phase, crowding is corrected by expanding the arches or by removing teeth. Teeth cannot be aligned if there is not enough room. The decision to expand or extract is determined by a number of variables including the size of the teeth and jaws, the amount of bone and gum tissue supporting the roots, and the profile. The first step is to create room so that the teeth can be aligned. If a patient has extra space at the start of treatment, that space must be closed during this step.

Once there is room, the second step is to align or straighten the teeth. Aligning the arches is accomplished using wires, elastic chains, springs, and other auxiliaries (“gadgets”) that rotate, tip, and torque the teeth into their desired positions. Another common step in the alignment process is “repositioning” individual brackets. Sometimes brackets cannot be put in the right place on the first day because of the bite, the alignment, or the shape of the teeth. After the teeth have been partially aligned however, the brackets can then be moved to better positions.

The third phase of treatment is correcting the bite or making the upper teeth fit the lower ones. This must be accomplished in all three planes of space, front to back (overbite or underbite), side to side (crossbites), as well as top to bottom (open bite or deep bite). Making the upper match the lower is accomplished with wires, rubber bands, springs, or surgery. When the bite is right, the backs of the top teeth rest lightly on the fronts of the bottom ones. (There are also some specific functional relationships that must be “just so” at the end of treatment, but the specifics are beyond the scope of this article.)

The “When do I get my braces off?” question usually arises during the third or “bite phase” of treatment. By that time the crowded, crooked teeth are gone and the patient is generally happy with how things look. Admittedly, the first half of treatment is more exciting than the last half. It is during the final phase however where the bite is corrected so that the results will be healthy and stable.

If you are wondering if you’re getting close to getting your braces off, compare what you see in your mouth with this list:

1. Are the teeth straight?
2. Are the spaces between the teeth closed completely?
3. Do the upper front teeth overlap the lower front teeth appropriately (not too deep, but no visible space between them)?
4. Are the outer cusps of the upper teeth resting on the outside of the corresponding ones in the lower?
5. Is the overbite or underbite corrected?

If it is obvious that your teeth are still crooked, have spaces between them, or you still have a deep bite or overbite, you probably still have some time remaining. If your treatment time is longer that was originally estimated, check out another article I wrote about that at http://www.gregjorgensen.com/blog/2012/03/three-reasons-your-orthodontic-braces-are-still-on/. If you have specific questions about your smile, ask your orthodontist to explain what objectives remain in your treatment. If he or she is conscientious, your braces will come off when the best result is achieved and not before. Good luck!

NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Because he has over 25,000 readers each month, it is impossible for him respond to all questions. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.

130 comments so far in response to “When Do I Get My Braces Off?”

  1. Tara says:

    Dear Dr. Jorgensen, this article is really helpful. I have had braces on now for 8 months (the estimated time for the treatment given to me at the outset by my orthodontist was 6-9 mts). We had to correct the occlusion (I had an underbite) and that has been corrected, and some crowding and straightening particularly of the upper front teeth and there has also been a huge improvement with that.
    However, with only a month and half remaining, I keep asking my orthodontist, what we are working on next. I am not quite happy with my 4 front, upper teeth. ALthough there has been a huge change, I feel that my upper front teeth tend to point towards the left, and also the teeth on the left tend to be slightly higher up than those on the right side. Moreover, the 2 upper front teeth in the center are not quite straight but at a 160 degree angle (if I can use that as a description). I have shown this to my orthodontist on a photo, and he argues that everything looks fine and it is the angle of the photo, and the teeth have to form an arch. No matter what angle I take the photo from, it always looks the same. Moreover, my smile is not symetrical because the teeth on the left are slightly higher. He disagreed and then called me over the weekend, telling me to bring him a panoramic x-ray so that he could see what I am trying to tell him. I am a bit apprehensive because there is less than 2 months left before I leave the country and I would like to ensure that my treatment is indeed finished when I take off my braces. He has taken numerous photos throughout the treatment which I have not seen till now, nor the imprints we took at the outset. Any suggestions?

    • You need to talk reasonably with your orthodontist and express your concerns. You then need to listen to his explanations to determine if the little adjustments that you are describing are even possible with braces alone. If your smile is canted up on one side, that can sometimes be difficult to treat with braces only. If you cannot come to an agreement with him, you need to move on to another doctor. What he is seeing and what you are seeing may be different and it may not be worth arguing over. Remember that you are dealing with the human body. Rarely is perfection achievable. Your teeth may be worn so that they look asymmetrical. Your jaws may be asymmetrical. You may have one of your teeth that won’t move (anykylosis) and could be at the root of the unevenness. If you were my patient and I got to a point where I felt I could not meet your expectations, I’d help you find another doctor where you would be happier.

  2. Tony Borja says:

    Got my braces put on around September 2012 to close up my gaps and till this day I still have them on. The gap I wanted closed up (by 2 front teeth) has been reopened for the past 2 months. What the heck??

    • You need to have a serious “sit down” with your orthodontist and express your concerns. It sounds to me like someone is not paying attention to what is going on here or there is more to the story.

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