male-patientAdults are seeking orthodontic treatment at historic levels, according a new survey from the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). The number of adult patients increased 14% in a 2-year period from 2010 to 2012, to a record high of 1,225,850 patients ages 18 and older.

The survey, titled “The Economics of Orthodontics,” asked members of the AAO in the United States and Canada about patients they were treating in 2012. The study was conducted for the AAO by the independent research firm Loyalty Research Center.

According to the survey, AAO members were treating a total of 5,876,000 patients in 2012, an increase of 20% as compared to 2010. Further, 4,650,150 patients in 2012 were ages 17 or under, an increase of nearly 22% as compared to 2010. This is the largest number of non-adult patients in treatment by AAO members since patient census data began to be collected in 1982.

The study also found that more men are opting for orthodontic treatment. As of 2012, 44% of adult patients were male, an increase of 10 percentage points, or 29%, as compared to 2010 survey results.

A separate study conducted on behalf of the AAO for National Orthodontic Health Month in October found that adults who had orthodontic treatment provided by an orthodontist reported that their treatment contributed to significant improvements in both their professional and personal lives. Seventy-five percent of adults surveyed reported improvements in career or personal relationships, which they attributed to their improved post-orthodontic smile. Citing their newfound self-confidence, 92% of survey respondents said they would recommend orthodontic treatment to other adults.

These same survey respondents were queried on their pretreatment concerns: “What will others think?”, “How will I look?”, “Am I too old?” Seventy-one percent had such concerns prior to treatment, but an overwhelming majority said the concerns did not continue once treatment actually began.

Younger adults reported the most favorable results. Of those aged 18 to 34 queried, 87% reported increased success with personal relationships after treatment.

“Many of our adult patients are telling us it’s time for them to get their smile on track, says Gayle Glenn, DDS, MSD, president of the AAO. “Adult patients often have gone years—even decades—trying to hide their teeth, while not even entertaining the idea of orthodontic treatment because of misplaced concern about having treatment as an adult. The good news is that today’s wide variety of innovative treatment options can make the process of orthodontic treatment barely noticeable, while offering the dual lifetime benefits of improved oral health and a more attractive smile. Adults are thrilled to know that the help of orthodontists is available to them.”

“The Economics of Orthodontics” survey also found that 56% of all new patients had dental insurance that included orthodontic benefits, which could be a factor contributing to the increase in number of orthodontic patients seeking treatment. Coupled with flexible spending account funds (FSA) and payment plans offered by most AAO members, treatment has become more affordable.

The good news for patients doesn’t stop there. Advances in orthodontic technology have shortened the time in treatment, while lengthening the amount of time between appointments. AAO members report the average interval between appointments during active orthodontic treatment was 6 weeks in 2012, and that total treatment time averaged 22 months—less than 2 years, and a decrease of 1 month as compared to results in a 2008 study.

“Orthodontic treatment is very do-able and manageable,” Glenn says. “Our patients are finding that orthodontic treatment can complement their lifestyles, and is compatible with their professional needs and their social lives. It’s necessary to see the orthodontist only every several weeks, and even at the outset of treatment, the end is in sight. Many patients begin to see changes in their smiles not long after treatment begins, which delights them and their orthodontists.”

“Orthodontic treatment is at its highest point ever,” Glenn adds. “Even with the difficult economic times we’ve been through, the message is clear that a healthy, beautiful smile is priceless.”