Most people that request straighter looking teeth or orthodontic treatment are primarily interested in making the upper and lower 6 front teeth straighter. These are called the “social six” by most dentists, as they are the ones that are seen when smiling. Although there may be irregularity with the back premolars and molars, most people function very well as they are. Their main focus is a cosmetic one. Whilst there are many indications for straighter back teeth, such as better biting pressure, being able to clean well and so on, many people would prefer to not undertake treatment at all when there is a prolonged treatment time or a treatment fee that is high.
Traditionally straightening teeth involves the placement of bonded brackets, or braces on the teeth to move the teeth into position. On average, orthodontic treatment takes around 18-24 months to complete, and is likely to cost around $7-11K for treatment. Of course this depends upon the complexity of treatment or how much straightening needs to happen.
Enter short term orthodontics
Short term orthodontics is the name I give to treatment that is focussed on straightening out irregularities of the upper and lower 6 front teeth only. Since we are not addressing the position of the molar or premolar teeth at all, the time frame and cost of treatment is much reduced.
When short term orthodontics was first introduced, traditional braces were bonded to the front teeth only to make them straighter. Most people still found the appearance of traditional braces on the front teeth to be undesirable, even if the time frame was shorter.
These days patients and dentists have so much choice when it comes to improving the smile. The most accepted method of straightening teeth for many adults is using clear aligners. These look like clear thin mouthguards, or similar to whitening trays. The patient needs to wears a series of aligners for 2 weeks at a time, for around 22 hours a day. Each aligner makes minute movements on the teeth, to slowly and gently move the teeth into a straighter position. Given that we are only looking at moving the most visible teeth, on average, most cases are completed within 6 months. This is very appealing because not only do you not see the orthodontic aligners in position, the aligners can be taken out to eat. So no more getting things stuck around brackets. I find that the people who like short term clear aligners are those that had braces years ago, and stopped wearing their retainers. As a consequence, the teeth are no longer straight, and needs some tweaks to get that refined look again. For others, it is those adult patients that never had the opportunity to get braces when they were younger, and always dreamt of a straighter looking smile.
What the patient needs to do
Talk to your dentist, as short term orthodontics may not suit everyone. However it is a plan that can be considered when the back teeth sit in an acceptable position.
In general, the most suitable people for short term orthodontics are adults, because the tooth and bone positions are fairly stable. There should be no jaw joint or large scale bite problems. Primarily, those interested in straightening out the upper and lower front teeth (the “social six”) can benefit most from this treatment. Finally this kind of treatment depends upon the patients being motivated to participate in treatment. If you are the kind of person that will wear the aligners as detailed by your dentist (for 22 hours a day), then this treatment may be perfect for you. However if you are the type of person who will forget to wear the aligners, best you stick with the stuck on kind!
Thanks for reading!