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What is Orthodontic Headgear?

Orthodontic headgear is the general term for any appliances that an orthodontist might use to help move teeth or realign a jaw, and that is worn partially outside the mouth. Orthodontic headgear is used to apply gentle force on parts of the mouth, making it ready for the application of braces.

Why is Orthodontic Headgear Used?

Sometimes, braces by themselves are not enough to move your teeth into the proper position. This is especially the case when:

  • You need more space in your mouth for braces to do their work.
  • You have trouble with your bite.
  • Your jaw has not grown in the proper way.

When one or more of these is the case, your orthodontist will recommend using headgear to resolve the issue. Thus, braces and headgear work together to align your teeth and straighten your smile.


Types of Orthodontic Headgear

Cervical Pull Headgear

Cervical pull type headgear consists of a thick U-shaped or W-shaped wire that fits into bands on your back teeth. The wire then hooks onto a strap that fits around the back of your neck. That’s how the headgear gets its name: The bones in your neck are called cervical vertebrae, and the headgear is moving your teeth by providing leverage against these bones in your neck. This appliance is often used to pull teeth back and create room for further movement.

High-pull Headgear

High-pull headgear is similar to cervical pull headgear, consisting of a wire that attaches to brackets or braces on your teeth. The difference is that this wire attached to straps that fit around the back and top of the head (sometimes called a “J Hook”). The result is an upward pull on your teeth.

This appliance is often used to pull your teeth or jaw upward, or to halt the growth of the upper jaw. It is also sometimes used to help correct an “open bite” where the front teeth do not make contact.

Both cervical and high-pull headgear sometimes go by other names, such as “class II” orthodontic headgear, or retraction headgear.

Reverse-pull Headgear

Reverse-pull headgear has one or more straps that come over the chin or forehead. Sometimes two straps are held in place with a vertical frame (this is sometimes called “facemask” headgear). With the straps on the front of the face, the headgear applies pressure to move teeth forward. It is commonly used to correct an underbite.

This kind of headgear also sometimes goes by the names “class III” orthodontic headgear, or protraction headgear.

How to Tell if You Need Headgear

Both children and adults can possibly need headgear. Given that it can reposition teeth faster than braces alone, it is common in cases where a bite is misaligned (called malocclusion). Your orthodontist will determine whether or not special orthodontic headgear is needed.

Your orthodontist may elect to do a course of treatment with headgear first, before putting on braces, or may decide to use both at the same time, with your headgear fitting into your braces when needed.

If you do not currently have an orthodontist, and you live in North Carolina or Southern Virginia, make an appointment with us for an initial consultation. (Whether you live outside this area or not, we recommend reading our “Top Questions to Ask an Orthodontist During Consultation.”)

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