Second Opinion: Survey results show why all orthodontists need to be better advocates, educators

By Jeff Summers, DMD, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

February 27, 2020 -- I think we can agree that one of the most gratifying aspects of our profession is the transformative role we have in patient health and in building confidence through beautiful smiles. We get to see this every day. However, new research conducted by Ormco shows investing in a great smile is perceived to pay many dividends beyond health and aesthetics. Straight teeth and improved smiles are equated to success and happiness.

When provided with multiple options they could select, the adults in the survey who sought orthodontic treatment cited the top five reasons for doing so were to boost confidence (59%), improve attractiveness (55%), address health issues (45%), reduce judgment from others (24%), and help with career success (20%). Similarly, parents who sought orthodontic treatment for their children did it almost equally to boost confidence (63%) as for health reasons (60%). But it's notable that approximately 2 out of 5 parents did it because they believed it will help their child be more successful in life, improve attractiveness, or protect their child from potential bullying.

Jeff Summers, DMD
Jeff Summers, DMD.

These results are likely correlated to the fact that the study also found a smile ranked as the top physical trait of a first impression among adults and parents, who rated it significantly higher than eyes, height, weight, hair, skin, or body type. In fact, when asked to prioritize physical issues they would fix if they were an issue for them or their children, both adults and parents ranked straightening teeth as their top priority above addressing weight, skin, hair, fixing their nose, or swapping glasses for contacts.

In fact, 9 out of 10 parents ranked teeth straightening as their top financial investment they can make in their children's long-term success and happiness, ranking it above tutors, sports programs, music lessons, weight loss, or acne/skin treatments. Adults also rated investing in a great smile over all other aesthetic-enhancing options, including cosmetic surgery.

Maybe the desire for a great smile is rooted in the fact that less than half (46%) of adults feel confident with their own smile/teeth. At a minimum, everyone deserves a welcoming smile they love.

This study validates the important role dentists and orthodontists have in addressing oral health and proper bite/alignment and also the aesthetic, emotional, and intrinsic value we provide in perfecting beautiful smiles. We shouldn't shy away from or be ashamed of this. We are changing lives.

To help patients, we should ask all patients in the initial consultation what they most want treatment to address and what they hope their new smile will help achieve. Once we understand the goals, we can customize and personalize the discussion and treatment recommendations to meet the functional, aesthetic, and life goals.

Part of this discussion is education that a great smile is more than straight teeth. Gingival contouring, reshaping teeth, color correcting, and eliminating excessive and unsightly gum tissue in a smile can be game-changing. Patients should also learn that treatment can improve facial symmetry and profile, enhance appearance of the lips, and improve smiles where too much gum tissue shows when smiling, among other aesthetic enhancements. These all help with the life goals each patient holds as the basis for seeking treatment with you.

However, despite the significance attributed to attaining a great smile, the study also reported that more than two-thirds of treatment seekers do very little research on today's options. At the same time, they are being bombarded with marketing messages directly from aligner manufacturers promising great results at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional braces -- without the need for a doctor. As a result, 7 out of 10 parents and adults cited they would consider an aligner sold directly by a manufacturer that did not involve any doctor visits. Yes, you read that startling number right: 7 out of 10. We should all sit up straight and be nervous by this statistic.

We haven't done as good of a job of getting the word out as well as the direct-to-consumer manufacturers have. We have work to do. Let's be advocates for our profession and educators of ourselves and the public on the latest treatment modalities and facts. Our future is depending on it.

About the survey: Commissioned by Ormco, the national, online survey of 1,011 U.S. consumers, targeting adults (18 years and older) and parents, was conducted by Propeller Insights between September 15 and September 17, 2019. All participants self-identified as having purchased teeth-straightening products or services in the past four years or are considering purchasing teeth-straightening products or services in the next two years. Responses have a maximum margin of sampling error of ± 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. To learn more, visit HealthySmileIQ.com.

Jeff Summers, DMD, is a private practice orthodontist, educator, lecturer, and industry key opinion leader based in Greenville, SC. He has degrees from Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Medical College of Georgia.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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