Understanding the Different Phases of Orthodontic Treatment

If you are considering orthodontic treatment, you probably have many questions that need to be answered first. The top considerations for most people are the cost and process, including how long the treatment takes and what happens during treatment. 

You probably already know that braces gently move teeth into the correct alignment over time. But, not many people know that orthodontic treatment has three distinct phases. Understanding these phases will help you make decisions now as well as throughout your treatment.

So, let’s break down exactly what the three major phases of orthodontic treatment are and talk about the common issues that can be corrected by proceeding with orthodontic treatment.


What Are the Different Phases of Orthodontic Treatment?

One of the first questions many new orthodontic patients ask is, “How long will my treatment take?” Remember that your treatment will be customized for you, but orthodontic treatment generally takes between 6 and 30 months. 

A lot will depend on the type of orthodontic issue you have as well as the specific device that is used. It will also depend on your ability to commit to the entire treatment plan. However, understanding the phases of treatment will help give you a better idea of how long you’ll be working with the orthodontist.

The three major stages of any orthodontic treatment plan are as follows:


Phase 1 – The Planning Stage

In this planning stage, your orthodontist does a thorough examination that includes numerous evaluations. They will create a personalized treatment plan based on the evaluations and then determine the type of orthodontic appliance that will best match your needs.

The examination includes the following:

Medical And Dental Evaluations

No orthodontic treatment can begin if there are current medical or dental conditions that might affect the outcome of your treatment. Physical problems and dental issues affect each other in several ways, so your orthodontist will want those resolved before beginning your treatment.


Study Models

The orthodontist will sometimes create models with bite impressions. These will used to evaluate the position of each tooth in relation to the other teeth. 

The process isn’t difficult, although sometimes a bit messy if doing traditional impressions. For those, the patient bites down into a gel substance in dental trays that fit their upper and lower jaws. The substance hardens to create models of the patient’s teeth when removed.

Panoramic X-Ray and Computer Generated Images

Today’s panoramic two-dimensional (2-D) image of the entire mouth shows the teeth, upper and lower jaws, and surrounding structures and tissues in one image. The orthodontist sees the entire jaw as a curved structure similar to that of a horseshoe.

Computer-generated 3D images are sometimes also used to help the orthodontist generate a highly customized treatment plan for every patient. These images help to project how specific treatments may affect the shape of the face and symmetry of the jaw of each patient.



“Before, during, and after” photographs of your face and teeth will be taken throughout treatment. Not only the orthodontist, but you also, will be able to see how treatment is progressing. In most cases, the appearance of your face will be affected, all determined before beginning treatment.


Phase 2 – Active Treatment 

Once Phase 1 is completed and the appropriate orthodontic device is chosen, the orthodontist affixes it or educates you on how to use it. The devices can be fixed devices, like braces, which include brackets and archwires, or removable devices like clear aligners or headgears. Each device is designed to be used for specific amounts of hours each day to achieve the goals of the treatment plan.

During the treatment phase, you’ll visit the orthodontist’s office regularly for the device to be adjusted or to ensure the device is being used properly. The orthodontist is also available for emergency issues if any arise in between regular appointments, including broken braces brackets or wires and misplaced aligners.


Phase 3 – Retention

Once the active treatment plan is completed and the orthodontist determines that your personalized goals have been achieved, phase 2 ends and the final stage, retention, begins. Fixed braces will be removed and removable devices will be discontinued. During this phase, the jawbone will be strengthening and stabilizing around the teeth in their new, properly aligned positions.

During this phase, you will be given a customized retainer. This device is used to keep teeth in proper alignment and make sure that they don’t begin to shift back into their previously misaligned positions. The retainer is used for a specified amount of time every day, tapering off over time, but it will be used to some degree for the rest of the patient’s life.


The Common Issues That Orthodontic Treatment Can Help

There are many benefits of orthodontic treatment. Most fall into the areas of improving the appearance of the teeth and jaw as well as the function of chewing, biting, and speaking. All of the common alignment issues that orthodontists treat can be helped by going through the three phases of treatment mentioned above.

The most common issues that orthodontic treatment can help resolve include:


An overbite is a vertical misalignment when your upper teeth overlap your lower teeth more than they should. Without treatment, an overbite can lead to jaw pain, tooth erosion, and gum disease. Treatments can be either orthodontic intervention or oral surgery.



An underbite is an orthodontic condition in which the lower front teeth protrude beyond the upper front teeth. It can also happen if the lower jaw extends beyond the upper jaw, and can be caused by thumb sucking, mouth breathing, tongue thrusting against the teeth, and using a pacifier or bottle for too long.

In minor cases, an underbite can be treated with orthodontic treatment devices like a face mask, braces, or clear aligners with the aid of elastic bands to move the teeth back into proper alignment. Severe cases may require orthognathic surgery, especially when braces haven’t achieved the desired goals.



A normal bite is when your upper teeth are slightly wider and sit on the outside of your bottom teeth. With a crossbite, one or more upper teeth close inside the lower teeth rather than on the outside. A single tooth or groups of teeth, like the front or back teeth, can be affected in a crossbite.

With a severe crossbite, both braces and a Rapid Palatal Expander (RPE) may be needed. The expander expands the teeth and palatal bones of the upper arch. It is most often used in young children and growing teenagers because their bones aren’t fully developed yet.



Overcrowded teeth are caused by a lack of space, which then shifts the teeth out of proper alignment. It is most often seen in children when the primary teeth begin to fall out and the permanent teeth don’t have enough room to erupt properly. 

The teeth then overlap each other instead of coming in with adequate space. Crowded teeth vary from mild, with one or two teeth overlapping each other, to severe, with most of the teeth overlapping. In many cases, braces can help with overcrowding when caught early in children/teens, while in others, some of the teeth need to be removed to make room in the jaw for the teeth to be straightened. 

Regardless of which type of orthodontic problem you have, you’ll go through the same three phases of orthodontic treatment that we covered above. But, all of these issues can be corrected with personalized treatment plans.


Get Expert Treatment & Support As You Experience the Phases of Orthodontic Care

Your orthodontic treatment will include three phases, from pre-planning through maintenance. The length of your treatment depends on the extent of the movement necessary in your teeth, but in general, it lasts from six to thirty months. Understanding what each of the three phases involves will help clear up many questions you may have and help confidently approach your journey to a straight, beautiful smile.

Experience the Swiatek Orthodontics difference. Our friendly team goes beyond just offering orthodontic treatment, creating a stress-free environment where you’re more than just a patient. We’ll support you every step of the way through each of the phases of your treatment, ensuring a positive experience that exceeds your expectations.

Contact us today to ask any questions you may have and schedule a free consultation!