Orthodontics may not improve oral health, some researchers say

Researchers analyzed the results of multiple studies on orthodontics and dental health together and didn't find evidence that orthodontic treatment decreases the chances of developing oral health issues, according to The Atlantic.

In 2008, research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association examined 12 studies on orthodontics and found that the dental health of those receiving orthodontic treatment actually worsened slightly in the long run. A June 2020 study in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics analyzed seven studies and couldn't find significant evidence for the health benefits of orthodontic treatment.

Currently, the American Association of Orthodontics recommends all children have an orthodontic consultation by age 7 to identify potential problems and develop a treatment plan. Lack of treatment can lead to "tooth decay, gum disease, broken front teeth, and loss of bone tissue that holds teeth in place," according to the AAO's website,cited by The Atlantic.

Some individual studies find risks tied to malocclusion, but analyses of the larger body of literature don't tend to. The 2020 study in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics also analyzed 87 studies on the effects of malocclusion and didn't find sufficient evidence to suggest that crooked teeth led to poor health outcomes.

"Dental health is definitely enhanced by orthodontic therapy, and I stand firm on that," said Peter Greco, DMD, professor of orthodontics at Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania and associate editor of the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, exemplifying the industry divide over the issue.

Around half of U.S. children today receive orthodontic treatment, according to Philippe Hujoel, PhD, DDS, oral health epidemiologist at Seattle-based University of Washington. Americans spend about $5.4 billion out of pocket on orthodontics per year, while private insurance and Medicaid cover an additional $4.2 billion, The Atlantic reports.

Many choose orthodontics because they hope straight teeth will improve their life, said Stephen Richmond, PhD, professor of orthodontics at Cardiff University in Wales.

The American Association of Orthodontists declined The Atlantic's request for comment.

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