Why Do We Do It?

"Is it just esthetic?” a patient recently asked me in a consultation regarding orthodontic treatment. I get these kind of questions on occasion, and I think they are valid and deserve a good answer. What I try to convey to my patients is that there are numerous reasons to pursue orthodontic treatment. In treatment, we are typically pursuing three objectives: 1. Improving oral health; 2. Improving the function of the teeth and jaws; and 3. Helping patients overcome psychosocial handicaps created by discrimination based on facial and den-tal appearance. The first two objectives may seem obvious, but I always make sure that the third is not overlooked. 

We live in a world where first impressions are of the utmost importance, and through experience, I know that folks are geared to make judgments about people the first time they meet them by processing contextual visual information, including information from someone’s face and smile. I think we all would agree that the best policy is “don’t judge a book by its cover;” – but as human beings, we have a tough time separating these principles from our subconscious associations. 

So where does orthodontics come in? One of our goals with orthodontic treatment is to give our patients an esthetic, consonant smile so that they can put their best foot forward in each interaction that they have in life. Of course we respect the fact that the health of the dentition (development and arrangement of teeth), periodontium (the teeth’s supporting structures), and the occlusion (the position of the teeth when the jaw is closed) is important, but we also recognize the value of the confidence that comes with being proud of your smile. Research has shown that adults who have undergone orthodontic treatment have improved self-assessment attractiveness scores than they did pre-treatment, and anecdotally, I have talked to many adult patients whose confidence, extroversion, and self-esteem has soared after completing orthodontic treatment. These are qualities that improve overall wellness and are excellent predictors of career success and a high quality of life.

So, is it esthetic? Most definitely. But orthodontics is also a whole lot more ...