Improving one’s appearance is the most obvious reason for orthodontic treatment, but for many adults, another important motivator is avoiding the premature loss of teeth and the need for extensive restorative work.
It’s well understood by dentists, but not by the general public, that misaligned teeth are correlated with excessive tooth wear and periodontal disease. Those problems, in turn, can cause the loss of teeth. That is why many adult patients with improper bite patterns come to see us.
Orthodontic treatment, if performed in a timely manner, can help reduce or eliminate the need for crowns, implants, dentures and other invasive procedures after teeth are badly damaged or lost completely.
Correcting an improper bite is a common reason why adults seek orthodontic treatment. An overbite, for example, can actually get worse over time as some of the teeth will have worn down prematurely. Correcting such problems helps to position the teeth so the chewing surfaces are aligned better. That can significantly reduce the amount of wear on the teeth.
Another important benefit of straightening teeth is reducing bone loss. While some reduction of bone volume can be normal as we age, abnormal forces caused by poorly positioned teeth can accelerate that loss. Bone loss is a leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
To understand how this happens, it can be useful to consider some numbers. A normal human jaw can create a force of between 23 pounds and 230 pounds while biting! Now multiply that by the hundreds or thousands of times each day that we bite during normal chewing. If those forces are applied abnormally, such as a sideways pressure between poorly aligned teeth, they can cause the underlying bone to break down.
The left photo is the result of years of tooth grinding that wore the teeth down due to a bad bite. The middle photo is after Invisalign treatment to open up the bite and create clearance for crowns. The right photos show the patient with crowns on the front teeth. All this could have been avoided if the bite had been corrected before the wear occurred.
Other adverse effects of that misdirected pressure can include muscle strain, which can be painful and lead to spasms; and pressure on the jaw joint, leading to the painful condition called temporomandibular disorder, or TMD.
Another important benefit of straight teeth is that they are easier to clean. Regular and thorough cleaning is vital to preventing gum disease. This can start as gingivitis, an infection of the gums that is fairly common among adults over 30. Untreated, gingivitis can develop into a more serious periodontal infection, which can cause the gums to become inflamed and pull away from the teeth. This infection and the body’s immune system response to it can damage the bone and lead to teeth loosening or being lost prematurely. Periodontal disease also has been linked to heart disease. The underlying inflammation from the periodontal disease is damaging to the body’s blood vessels and the entire cardiovascular system.
It’s important that a patient with active gum disease have it treated before beginning orthodontic treatment and continue to see a dentist or periodontist during the course of orthodontic treatment. We always work closely with our patients’ general dentists to ensure that all necessary treatments are properly coordinated.
In the long run, straighter teeth are healthier teeth, and far more likely to remain intact for the patient’s lifetime.
Dr. William V. Gierie received his dental degree and orthodontic specialty training from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is an associate adjunct faculty member and Invisalign instructor in the orthodontic department. Dr. Gierie is in the top 1% of all Invisalign doctors in North America and lectures extensively on Invisalign. He maintains a private orthodontic practice in Wilmington, N.C., at 700 Military Cutoff Road, Suite 100. For more information, visit gobraces.net or call 910.256.8590.