Before giving someone braces, the orthodontist needs to diagnose what the problem is. This means making use of several different methods, including X-rays, photographs, impressions, and models. The X-rays give the orthodontist a good idea of where the teeth are positioned and if any more teeth have yet to come through the gums. Special X-rays that are taken from 360 degrees around the head may also be ordered; this type of X-ray shows the relationships of the teeth to the jaws and the jaws to the head. The orthodontist may also take regular photographs of the patient's face to better understand these relationships. And finally, the orthodontist may need an impression made of the patient's teeth. This is done by having the patient bite down on a soft material that is used later to form an exact model of the teeth.
Once a diagnosis is made, the orthodontist can then decide on the right kind of treatment. In some cases, a removable retainer will be all that's necessary. In other rare cases (especially when there is an extreme overbite or under bite), an operation will be necessary. But in most cases, the answer is braces. Braces straighten teeth because they do two very important things: stay in place for an extended amount of time, and exert steady pressure. It's this combination that allows braces to successfully change the position of teeth in a patient's mouth, through periodic adjustments by the orthodontist.