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What Are Fixed Orthodontics?

By C.B. Fox
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Fixed orthodontics are hardware attached to a patient’s mouth by an orthodontist, and they should only be removed by an orthodontist. This type of hardware is usually left in for the duration of a patient’s orthodontic treatment, though some fixed orthodontics — such as braces — require periodic adjustments. In most cases, patients are outfitted with these devices for a period of one or more years so the teeth can be slowly repositioned. Once these orthodontics are removed, the patient’s teeth will stay in their new positions and subsequent treatment is rarely needed.

Braces are the most common type of fixed orthodontics. Patients who need braces will have brackets and wires attached to their teeth. These metal fixtures slowly pull the teeth into alignment and need to be adjusted as the teeth move around. Once treatment is complete, an orthodontist will need to remove the braces from the patient's mouth, because special tools are required to safely remove the hardware.

Though most retainers easily slip in and out of a person’s mouth, there is a type of retainer that is attached semi-permanently to the patient’s mouth. These retainers, which are called fixed retainers, attach to the top of the patient’s mouth and fit around the front of some of the patient’s teeth. This type of fixed orthodontics is usually used to help keep teeth in place once they have been repositioned through the use of other orthodontic hardware, such as braces.

Aside from these relatively common types of fixed orthodontics that reposition the teeth, there are also fixed orthodontics that can be used to change the shape of a patient’s mouth. A lingual arch can be used to ensure that the mandible keeps its shape. This device is used in young children when their baby teeth are falling out. Another device, called a palatal expander, can be placed between the upper back molars to widen the upper jaw.

Other commonly used, but not fixed, orthodontics include retainers and head gear. Retainers may be used before braces are put in place or after they're removed to continue encouraging proper alignment of the teeth. Head gear is designed to work with a patient's braces to stop jaw growth that could lead to an overbite or encourage jaw growth to prevent an underbite. These devices, unlike fixed orthodontics, can be removed by a patient. Fixed orthodontics are all attached to a patient’s mouth in such a way that a visit to an orthodontist is necessary when it comes time to remove the device.

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