A 20-year study by psychologists and dentists has cast doubt on the assumption that orthodontic treatment improves psychological well-being.

The multidisciplinary team studied the long-term effects of orthodontic treatment and lack of treatment when a need had been identified in childhood.

More than 1,000 11-12 year olds were recruited for the project in 1981, and their dental health and psycho-social well-being was assessed. They were re-assessed in 1984, 1989, and 2001.

"We revisited 337 of our original sample as adults, and those who had been assessed as needing orthodontic treatment in 1981," says William Shaw, professor at the University of Manchester. "We found that orthodontic treatment, in the form of braces placed on children’s teeth in childhood, had little positive impact on their psychological health and quality of life in adulthood. Further, a lack of orthodontic treatment in childhood did not lead to psychological difficulties in later life for those children where a need was identified but no treatment received."

The researchers conclude that although patients’ self-esteem increased over the 20-year period, it was not a result of receiving braces and didn’t relate to whether an orthodontic treatment need existed. They added that the health or attractiveness of a person’s teeth is a minor factor in determining their psychological well-being in adulthood.

[EurekAlert, January 23, 2007]