Christopher Piehler

After years of working around orthodontists, the AAO Annual Session has become a major milestone in my year. I would like to say that it inspires me to undertake a clear-eyed assessment of how I have helped the world in the past 12 months, but the truth is that the yearly ritual of gathering with my orthodontic colleagues has become another reminder that: 1) I am getting older; and 2) each year seems to have passed more quickly than the previous one.

I am not alone in my befuddlement at the passage of time (and my concomitant ambition to figure out how to slow it down). We live in age-obsessed era. Parents are teaching their children in the womb so they’ll have a jump on the rest of the 0-year-olds, then keeping them out of kindergarten an extra year so they’ll seem more precocious to their new teachers.

On the other end of the spectrum, that rapidly ballooning group of what used to be called “senior citizens” is living longer, working longer, and using ever more of their extended income to pay for treatments to make them look and feel younger. All over the world, governments are grappling with increasing the retirement age, even as young adults are living with their parents (or grandparents) for longer and longer.

It used to be that 18 was the “right” age to leave home, and 65 was the “right” age to retire, but these days, who knows?

Conventional wisdom has also said that the right age for your first orthodontic exam is 7, and the right age to get your braces off is during adolescence. But these norms are expanding on both ends. More and more adults like me are visiting (or revisiting) orthodontists. And in his article “Preventing Train Wrecks,” Robert N. Pickron, DDS, who has been practicing for more than 40 years, suggests that orthodontists could help some patients by seeing them as early as 4.

So what is the right age for orthodontics, or to leave home, or to retire? If I have gained any wisdom over the rapidly accelerating years, it’s to know enough to say that I don’t know.

Christopher Piehler