Looking into the Mouths of the American People: Trends in Orthodontic Care
Smiles have changed. Once upon a time, people could get away with a little overbite here, a minor gap there, or a misaligned incisor here and there. Not so much, anymore. What was once a sign of individual character is now seen as an unacceptable flaw—a sign of improper care if not poor hygiene.
In the age of Instagram and million-dollar celebrity smiles, having a set of perfectly aligned teeth is not so much a matter of looking exceptional as looking normal. As standards have risen, so has the need for quality orthodontics, and so has the need to find the best orthodontist capable of creating that picture perfect smile.
How Important Is Important?
How important is a nice smile? According to many social observers, it’s the single most critical factor in winning people over (and even in
securing a date). “It is becoming more and more culturally unacceptable to have discolored, missing, and crooked teeth,” Dr. Mark Hughes told Raconteur. “Almost 50 percent of us believe that a great smile is the most important feature in making a great first impression.”
Social media and celebrity culture get part of the credit—famous smiles have shown what’s possible with good orthodontic care, and a generation raised on selfies has provided the impetus for change—but not entirely. Part of the drive for better smiles may come from our hardwiring.
According to psychotherapists like Lucy Beresford, bared teeth can be a sign of dominance in the animal kingdom. Humans may be more evolved, but our reactions haven’t strayed too far from our ancestors. 1
Ask most adults who choose to get orthodontic care, and they’ll tell you that it’s not all about posting pictures online. It’s also about self-confidence and professional success. A strong smile usually denotes a strong person, and strong people tend to snag the jobs and the promotions. In other words, bared teeth (as long as they’re beautiful), suggest social and professional dominance.
Braces and the Modern American Teenager
Go to your local orthodontist office, and you’re likely to see a waiting room full of anxious or bored teenagers. That’s because the majority of orthodontics patients are between the ages of 12 and 18 years. Since the first modern braces made their appearance in the early 20 th century (orthodontics in one form or another has been around since ancient times), adolescence has generally been considered the appropriate time for fixing misalignments and crafting the perfect smile.
The rest of a person’s life is spent maintaining that smile. Those who are diligent about wearing their retainer and careful where they put it (i.e., not in the trash) are likely to enjoy a lifetime of beautiful smiles. Those who aren’t careful are likely to end up back in the orthodontist’s office come adulthood (more on that later).
Braces and teens have always gone together, but recent years have seen an uptick in the number who are seeking care. 2 Everywhere you go, smiles are getting better, and that increases the pressure on both parents and kids to keep up appearances. Not only that, but better health education has highlighted the importance of oral hygiene, which is a general indicator of overall health.
All of which is inspiring teenagers and their parents to pay a little more attention to the beauty and wellbeing of their teeth—arguably their most important (and most visible) asset as they move forward in life.
Adults and Braces
Not only are more teenagers seeking orthodontic treatment, but so are more adults. If recent studies and anecdotal evidence are any indication, Americans are flocking to their local orthodontist office, and it’s significantly improving the quality of their lives. Even men, a typicallyunderrepresented group in the average waiting room, are opting for treatment in greater numbers. 2
The reasons are no doubt the same for adults as they are for teens: When you combine rising standards and better technology with the prevalence of crowded or misaligned teeth, the growth in people seeking orthodontic treatment is hardly surprising.
Indeed, one study revealed that only 35 percent of adults in the U.S. had well-aligned front teeth (mandibular incisors). In 15 percent of those cases, the misalignment could be severe enough to affect someone’s social life, as well as their ability to eat properly. In addition, 20 percent of American adults have a less-than-ideal bite, with 2 percent suffering serious disfiguration. 3
It’s a big decision, taking on the extra expense and going through the trouble of a lengthy alignment process, but an overwhelming majority are happy they made the leap. Overall, 75 percent of adults said that fixing their teeth has enhanced their professional and personal lives. Young adults expressed the greatest satisfaction, with 82 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 citing improved personal relationships as a result of treatment. The average orthodontics patient is so happy that a full 92 percent said they would recommend it to other adults. 2
Smile Technology: The Why Behind the What
There’s one more reason a greater number of people are willing to undergo orthodontic procedures: a higher standard of care. The past few decades have witnessed a series of improvements in techniques and technology that have made the process more accessible. The most
notable advance has been the development of Invisalign and other clear teeth aligners.
The brainchild of two students from the Stanford business school who had zero orthodontics experience but at least one brilliant idea, the revolutionary new treatment made its debut in 1997 and immediately changed the face of orthodontics. Not only are they invisible to the average onlooker; they’re also removable, which makes them easier to clean and to wear. 5
The ability of Invisalign to accommodate different lifestyles has brought many new people into the orthodontics fold—people who would otherwise have stayed away for fear of being inconvenienced. Finally, technological advances have shortened treatment times and reduced the number of required office visits. 2 At the end of the day, faster and more convenient treatment options mean not only more patients, but also happier patients, and happier patients tend to flash those smiles more often.
Making Maryland Smile
Since 1977, Labbe Family Orthodontics has been providing high-quality care to Maryland residents. Over the years, we’ve helped countless teenagers and adults find their perfect smile. We start by tailoring our treatments to each individual. The key is pinpointing what’s right for a particular patient, determining whether they need traditional metal braces, ceramic braces, clear braces, Invisalign, or surgical orthodontics.
No matter how old you are, no matter what kind of care you need, if you want to get your smile on track, you’ll find a local orthodontist you can trust at Labbe Family Orthodontics.
- Raconteur. “Smile and the world smiles with you—if you have good teeth.” < https://www.raconteur.net/healthcare/smile-and-the-world-smiles-with-you-if-you-have-good-teeth>
- Orthodontic Products. “AAO Study Finds Adults are Seeking Orthodontic Treatment in Record Numbers.” < http://www.orthodonticproductsonline.com/2013/10/aao-study-finds-adults-are-seeking-orthodontic-treatment-in-record-numbers/>
- Int J Adult Orthodon Orthognath Surg. “Prevalence of malocclusion and orthodontic treatment need in the United States: estimates from the NHANES III survey.” < https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9743642>
- American Academy of Implant Dentistry. “Dental Implants Facts and Figures.” < http://www.aaid.com/about/press_room/dental_implants_faq.html>
- New York Magazine: Science of Us. “Metal-Mouths.” < http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/06/why-is-america-obsessed-perfect-teeth.html>
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “Tooth Loss in Seniors (Age 65 and Over).” < https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/ToothLoss/ToothLossSeniors65andOlder.htm>
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “Tooth Loss in Adults (Age 20 to 64).” < https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/ToothLoss/ToothLossAdults20to64.htm>
- Dental Plans. “Fast Facts & Figures.” < http://www.dentalplans.com/press-room/dentalfactsfigures>
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