One of the most common questions on people’s minds when they are considering starting orthodontic treatment for themselves or their child is “How long will this take?” And the answer is, well, “it depends.” It depends on multiple factors that primarily fall into two categories: the needs and goals of each individual.
First, we will consider needs. If you take yourself or your child to a certified orthodontic specialist for an orthodontic consultation, you will be presented with a thorough diagnosis of the patient’s dental, skeletal, growth and development, and in some cases, behavioral factors that contribute to an orthodontic problem. (After all, the first step in making a plan to correct a problem is accurately identifying exactly what the problem is!) Some common orthodontic problems include, but are not limited to, the following:
- dental crowding (crookedness)
- dental spacing (gaps)
- deep bites
- open bites
- abnormal eruption of adult teeth
- naturally missing adult teeth
- abnormal size/shape of teeth
- thumb-sucking or finger-sucking habits
- “impacted” adult teeth such as canines
- premature loss of a baby-tooth
In a given patient, one or more of these orthodontic problems may present themselves in varying degrees of severity. The number and severity of these problems is directly related to the estimated length of time it takes to correct them with braces or Invisalign. Think of this as a spectrum of orthodontic problems, where on one end, patients have only mild tooth alignment issues while on the other, patients have significant jaw/bite problems. The average case lies somewhere in the middle, similar to a “bell curve”. It is important to note that while some problems like dental crowding may be apparent from just looking in a mirror, others may go unnoticed and are best diagnosed by an orthodontist.
The desired outcome of nearly every case treated by a certified orthodontic specialist is to achieve a great looking smile in addition to correcting any bite issues that may be present to achieve an ideal bite, the way the top and bottom teeth fit together. While 100% perfection is never possible, we present a treatment plan to each patient that will address each problem noted and get them as close as possible to an ideal smile and bite. In certain cases, however, patient goals play a big role in determining treatment length. Take, for example, the following scenarios:
- a 42 year old man who has lived his entire adult life with an underbite and seeks to only straighten out his crowded upper front teeth to smile more confidently in work and social situations.
- Parents who wish to have their 10 year old daughter’s crossbite corrected to achieve a more functional bite who are not interested in braces for cosmetic purposes.
- a 30 year old woman with a mild overbite who is getting married in 6 months and wants a beautiful smile for wedding photos with no braces or Invisalign aligners.
- a 22 year old college student with moderate orthodontic needs who wants a smile “tune up” before moving out of state in less than a year.
In each of these examples, the patient goals may be the primary factor that determines their treatment length rather than orthodontic needs. While it is our job to inform each patient exactly what their orthodontic problems are, the benefits to correcting them, and how we can correct them, we listen to our patients’ questions, concerns and goals for their orthodontic care to determine the final plan of treatment, including an estimate of treatment time.
So what determines how fast teeth move? Without exception, the physiological response to orthodontic forces from braces or Invisalign in our teeth and the bone around our teeth determines the rate of tooth movement. The type of braces used, increasing the amount of force on the teeth, and coming in for more frequent appointments does NOT speed up treatment. Higher forces can even cause teeth to move slower in some cases. Tooth movement is best achieved by applying gentle forces and then giving the body time to adapt. While some patients may be candidates for accelerated orthodontics, the principles of tooth movement remain the same.
All things considered, in our office we have estimated plans that range from as little as 4 months up to 30 months with an average time right in the middle, around 16-18 months. Feel free to schedule a free consultation to learn more about you or your child’s orthodontic needs, goals, and talk treatment times.