The number of adults seeking orthodontic treatment has been steadily increasing for decades. In 2014, the American Association of Orthodontists estimated that 27 percent of all North American orthodontic patients are adults, and the number of adults seeking treatment has increased more than 16 percent from just two years prior.
While many of my adolescent patients are less than thrilled at the thought of 24 months with braces, their parents are often a strong persuader for treatment. Adult patients, on the other hand, are generally motivated by internal factors. The same 2014 study reported that 75 percent of adult patients experienced greater satisfaction in their careers and personal relationships after orthodontics.
Adult orthodontic treatment is also different than what we provide to children. The biologic process of tooth movement occurs through a controlled inflammation of the ligament between a tooth and bone, and it’s the same regardless of age. However, the healing slows down as we get older. As we recover from another Minnesota winter, I’ll use hockey as an allegory. While a Pee Wee sprained ankle can probably recover in time for next weekend’s game, injuries in the adult beer leagues can linger for months and even years!
Another consideration for the adult patient is growth. For most of us, facial skeleton growth stops in our early twenties. Once we reach skeletal maturity, we lose the opportunity to change the spatial relationship of the jaw bones through orthodontics.
Therefore, adult treatment for jaw position discrepancies should be limited to surgical procedures to treat the skeleton. Orthodontic attempts to correct or camouflage jaw positions can lead to positioning teeth out of their bony and gingival housings where they belong. This can result in bone loss, gum tissue loss, or even loss of teeth.
An orthodontist is trained to diagnose skeletal and dental relationships, and to offer treatment solutions to their patients. More importantly, orthodontists are trained in what not to do, or what procedures could result in harm. It’s essential for patients and their doctors to have an informed discussion about the best options.
Establishing a connection with your doctor through face-to-face consultation, referral from friends and colleagues, or professional reputation can provide a level of comfort and trust. As a patient, you have the right to know all of your treatment options, in addition to the risks and benefits.