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Orthodontic Glossary

About Orthodontics | Orthodontics for Adults | Orthodontics for Children
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Orthodontic Glossary

This is a list, with explanations, of new words you will be hearing rather frequently in our office during the next few weeks if you are a new orthodontic patient. We have tried to put them in the order that they will likely appear in this, your new experience, as an orthodontic patient. We would suggest you refer to this from time to time as treatment goes along, so that you can gradually add to your knowledge of orthodontics. This can make for a much happier treatment for you.


  • MALOCCLUSION – Malocclusion = "crooked teeth." Mal = "bad"; occlusion = "relation of teeth." Usually, then, a malocclusion is teeth that are chewing in a poor relationship with each other. This is the basic reason we have gone into orthodontic care for you.
  • BITE – This is another name for the way your teeth fit together when you bring them into a normal chewing relation.
  • CROSSBITE – Nature intended that all of your teeth fit in an orderly manner. That is, all of the upper teeth fitting slightly on the outside of your lower teeth. When a lower tooth slips to the outside of an upper tooth, this is what we call a crossbite.
  • OVERBITE – This is merely a term to describe the upper teeth biting over the lower teeth. Some overbite is normal. Too much overbite can cause severe problems and facial changes that are not particularly good.
  • IMPRESSIONS – We use a soft gelatin-like material, which is placed in a small tray that fits up over your teeth. In a matter of a few moments, your teeth leave an imprint in this material, similar to your handprint in soft sand on the beach.
  • MODELS – Models are the white plaster records of your teeth which result from making the impression we have just described. We pour the white Plaster of Paris into your mold, or impression, the plaster sets, and voila, a model of your teeth.
  • CEPHALOMETRIC X-RAY – This is an X-ray that we take of your head, from the side and sometimes from the front. This allows us to measure the growth of your face. Small plastic rods rest in your ear, on either side, as we take this picture, helping to hold your head in the exact position we need for the X-ray picture.
  • PANORAMIC X-RAY – An X-ray taken by a machine that rotates around your head to give the orthodontist a picture of your teeth, jaws and other important information.
  • SEPARATOR (SPACER) – Many times, it is necessary to place either small wires or small elastics between your teeth to help make room for the placing of your future braces. This often may feel as if you have a piece of meat caught between your teeth. This sensation passes quickly as your teeth move apart.
  • "DANGER ZONE" – This is the name we give to the little shelf that is formed between your new brackets and arch wire, and the gum at the top of your tooth. This is the place you must be very diligent and careful in brushing so that the food deposits, or plaque, will not form there and result in decay to your teeth.
  • APPLIANCES – This is what we call your braces. Your appliances are made up of such things as bands, arch wires, brackets, tiewires, hooks, and tubes.
  • BANDS – The small, thin, metal ring that we cement onto your teeth. These are merely "handles" by which we can move, or hold, your teeth.
  • BRACKETS – Brackets are what hold the wires in place. They can be made of metal, plastic, or ceramic. Each tooth gets a special bracket specifically designed for that tooth. Brackets can either be attached to a band or bonded directly to your tooth surface with special orthodontic cement.
  • TUBES – Usually on the very back teeth, or molars, we will place a long, round, or rectangular tube attached to the bands. Into this the arch wire rests, at the back of your mouth.
  • ARCH WIRE – This is the main wire that fits into the brackets or other attachments, on the outside of your teeth. This is fastened to your brackets by tiewires, or small plastic attachments. The arch wire provides a track along which your teeth move.
  • HOOK – This is a small additional attachment that is placed on your arch wire. It is usually used to attach rubber bands.
  • TIEWIRE or LIGATURE – These are the funny little fine wires that fasten your arch wire into the brackets. They are twisted, leaving a small "pigtail," or twisted wire, which is then tucked under the arch wire. Sometimes, in eating or brushing, this may become bent out and form a little sticker. If this happens, push it back against the arch wire, until we can see you.
  • WAX – During the first few days after your braces have been placed, the soft "sticker wax" can help smooth out the new fullness your braces create. Also later on in treatment if you have a wire or brace rubbing the inside of your mouth this wax can cover that little sticker until you can have us correct the problem.
  • DONUTS – These little rings, or colored modules, are often used instead of tiewires to attach your arch wire to the brackets.
  • ELASTIC CHAIN – A stretchable plastic chain used to hold arch wires into brackets and to move teeth.
  • TOOTH BRUSH INSTRUCTION – We will give you instruction on the correct way to brush your teeth, now that you have braces. It then becomes your job to keep your mouth bright and clean, not only for your comfort, but for the health of your mouth.
  • RETAINER – Retain means to hold. These are the removable plastic appliances that we often place when your permanent braces are removed. This may be used to close small spaces between your teeth, make minor movements of your teeth, or merely hold your correction once it has been completed.
  • ELASTICS – During phases of treatment, we may have you wear rubber bands, hooked form one tooth to another, or one jaw to the other. These are merely an activating force by which we move teeth.

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