A Simple Breakdown Of The 3 Different Phases Of Orthodontic Treatment


Yes, the main goal of orthodontic treatment is to properly align the teeth and bite to give you a straight, beautiful smile. On a basic level, you probably know that braces and other types of treatments gently move your teeth into alignment over time. But, did you know that there are actually three different phases of orthodontic treatment?

Knowing what the different phases are, what they entail, and how they differ will give you a better understanding of the process as a whole and can help make your orthodontic treatment experience as smooth and effective as possible. 

So, if you’re wondering what are the stages of braces (or aligners and other treatments), we’ve got you covered. 


3 Stages of Orthodontic Treatment for Teens & Adults:

In general, active orthodontic treatment time can take anywhere between 6 and 18 months to complete. The exact timeframe will depend on the severity and type of
malocclusion (misalignment of the bite) and the specific type of orthodontic appliance being used. But, all types of orthodontic treatment will usually follow three distinct phases of orthodontic treatment – planning, alignment (aka active), and retention. 


Planning Phase

Like anything, you can’t expect the best possible results without starting with a good plan. So, the first phase of your
orthodontic treatment will be when the orthodontist develops your customized treatment plan. 

During your first several appointments, your orthodontist will evaluate your current bite and make an exact diagnosis. This information will then be used to determine what your options may be in types of treatment and plan out the realignment of your teeth in the most effective and timely way. 

The initial evaluations the orthodontist will do may include:

  • Dental/Medical EvaluationsDental and physical problems are often very closely related. Oral health problems can cause medical problems and certain medical problems can cause oral health issues. With this evaluation, your orthodontist wants to ensure that any prior medical and dental health issues are under control before active orthodontic treatment begins.
  • Comprehensive X-Rays – Panoramic X-rays provide a great view of the exact position of each tooth and its corresponding root before treatment begins. They also provide your orthodontist an opportunity to see any pre-existing damage to the jaw joint or potential complications.
  • 3D Computerized Images – Often done for treatment with Invisalign or other clear aligners, these state-of-the-art images will outline your treatment plan before and after. They will also show views of how treatment may affect the symmetry of your jaw and the shape of your face.
  • Bite Impressions – Bite impressions are done by having you bite down into a dental tray that is filled with a gel that hardens around your teeth. After removing the trays from your mouth they are used to create plaster models of your teeth. These models enable the orthodontist to evaluate the position of each tooth in relation to your other teeth and plan your treatment.
  • Traditional photographs – Before, during and after photographs of your face and teeth can be very valuable in assessing how treatment is progressing and the impact it is having on the shape of your face.

Depending on what type of orthodontic treatment you will be starting and the appliances being used, a combination of some of the above evaluations will usually be used.

If you have overcrowding issues and it is determined that you need to have any tooth extractions done, they will happen at your dentist office during this phase. This kind of dental work will need to be done before your active orthodontic treatment starts.

(Check out our article on some important things to do before active treatment starts to ensure everything goes smoothly.)

Alignment (aka Active) Phase

In the second phase of orthodontic treatment, your treatment plan is put into action. The type of orthodontic appliance/device that is prescribed and decided on will be fitted onto your teeth. The appliance will either be fixed or removable. 

The most common type of a fixed appliance is traditional braces, which utilize individual brackets that are connected by a metal archwire. Damon braces are another variation of these. There are also lingual braces, which are fixed onto the backside of the teeth and are less visible.

Alternatively, removable appliances are another possible option that are growing in popularity. The most popular example being Invisalign (and other clear aligners). Removable devices are designed to be worn for a prescribed amount of time each day to expedite orthodontic treatment. There is also removable headgear and face masks that are prescribed for certain malocclusions.

No matter what type of device ends up being used for your active treatment, during this phase you will go to your orthodontist’s office for periodic checkups to ensure correct pressure is being applied to your teeth and adjust devices as needed (or give you your next set of aligners). It is very important to go to the appointments at the designated intervals and to call if part of your appliance is damaged or breaks or if you are experiencing a lot of pain.

(Check out our article on how you can make your first week of active treatment easier.)

Retention Phase

When your teeth reach the desired proper alignment and your active treatment phase is complete, any fixed appliances will be removed or aligner use discontinued. Congratulations! But, the final phase of treatment, known as the retention phase, is still extremely important. The last thing you want is for all your time, effort, and money to be wasted by your teeth moving back out of alignment. 

So, this phase is all about retaining that proper alignment that has come from the active phase. Shortly before your active phase is over, a custom retainer will be created for you. This retainer fits into your mouth and ensures that your teeth remain in proper alignment moving forward. Your orthodontist will continue to inform you of how long you should be wearing your retainer on a daily basis and it is imperative to follow these instructions if you want to keep your beautiful smile. 

During this retention phase, your jawbone will begin to reform and strengthen around your realigned teeth to fully stabilize them in place. But, you should still continue to wear your retainer as instructed.

This phase will usually also involve periodic checkups to ensure your retainers continue to properly fit your teeth, check the alignment of your teeth, etc. 

You Can Move Through the Phases of Orthodontic Treatment Smoothly & Confidently

Each of the three stages of orthodontic treatment is vital to ensuring that your end result is a beautiful and optimally aligned smile. Make sure that during each phase of your treatment you continue to follow your orthodontist’s instructions, maintain a
good oral hygiene routine, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

When you partner with an experienced and trusted local orthodontist, like you’ll find here at Cook & Gutsche Orthodontics, you’ll go through each phase of treatment as smoothly as possible. Our goal is to ensure you stay as informed and comfortable as possible throughout your orthodontic treatment and end up with the beautiful smile you’ll be proud to show off.

Want to know more about the treatment options that may be available to you and what the process entails? Our caring team of orthodontic professionals is here to answer any questions you may have. Contact us today and schedule your initial complimentary consultation!