Healthy teeth can be moved at any age. There is no better time than now, as an adult, to begin your journey to a beautiful and healthy smile. Many orthodontic problems can be corrected as easily and as well for adults as children. Orthodontic forces move the teeth in the same way for both a 45-year-old adult and a 12-year-old child. Complicating factors, such as lack of jaw growth, may create different treatment planning needs for the adult.
One in five orthodontic patients is an adult. The AAO estimates that nearly 1,000,000 adults in the United States and Canada are receiving treatment from an orthodontist. To learn about correction of a specific problem, consult your family dentist or an orthodontist.
Adults are not growing and may have experienced some breakdown or loss of their teeth and the bone that supports the teeth. Orthodontic treatment may then be only a part of the patient’s overall treatment plan. Close coordination may be required among the orthodontist, oral surgeon, periodontist, endodontist and family dentist to assure that the treatment plan is managed well and complements all other areas of the patient’s needs.
Here are the most common characteristics that can cause adult treatment to differ from that of children:
- No jaw growth: Jaw problems can usually be managed well in a growing child with an orthopedic, growth-modifying appliance. However, the same problem for an adult may require jaw surgery. For example, if an adult’s lower jaw is too short to match properly with the upper jaw, a severe bite problem results. The amount that the teeth can be moved in some cases, with braces alone, may not correct this problem. Establishing a proper bite relationship could require jaw surgery, which would lengthen the lower jaw and bring the lower teeth forward into the proper bite. Other jaw-width or jaw-length discrepancies between the upper and lower jaws might also require surgery for bite correction if tooth movement alone cannot correct the bite.
- Gum or bone loss (periodontal breakdown): Adults are more likely to have experienced damage or loss of the gum and bone supporting their teeth (periodontal disease). Special treatment by the patient’s dentist or a periodontist may be necessary before, during and/or after orthodontic treatment. Bone loss can also limit the amount and direction of tooth movement that is advisable.
- Worn, damaged or missing teeth: Worn, damaged or missing teeth can make orthodontic treatment more difficult. Teeth may gradually wear and move into positions where they can be restored only after precise orthodontic movement. Damaged or broken teeth may not look good or function well even after orthodontic treatment unless they are carefully restored by the patient’s dentist. Extra space resulting from missing teeth that are not replaced may cause progressive tipping and drifting of other teeth, which worsens the bite, increases the potential for periodontal problems and makes any treatment more difficult.
Orthodontic treatment, when indicated, is a positive step, especially for adults who have endured a long-standing problem. Orthodontic treatment can restore good function. Teeth that work better usually look better, too. And a healthy, beautiful smile can improve self-esteem, no matter the age.