Do you trust your orthodontist?

“Do I need braces to preserve the health of my teeth? My only concern is to keep my teeth for the rest of my life.”

A recent article in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics (AJO-DO) by Associate Editor of the journal Peter M. Greco addressed this question and the importance of ethics and trust in orthodontics.

The article presented a hypothetical situation in which an opera singer is referred to an orthodontist. The patient’s teeth could use some improvement, but he practices good hygiene and is primarily concerned about his health. In this situation, an experienced orthodontist begins to consider the possibilities of giving this patient a more beautiful smile:

“You ponder for a moment, and in your mind’s eye, you picture the dramatic esthetic change your treatment could provide. You’d certainly like to close those spaces for this high-profile performer. You would like to tell him that your services would enhance his dental health and prognosis—and you wouldn’t mind starting another patient—but how should you respond?”

Greco points out that in most cases there is little or no evidence to suggest that orthodontic correction will improve the health of already-healthy teeth, so while correction wouldn’t hurt, would it help enough to justify doing?

Here, the orthodontist faces a choice. He or she can:

  • Tell the patient that correction will improve his dental health and gain a patient
  • Or, risk losing a patient by telling him that correction may or may not improve his health of his teeth, but it will definitely improve how they look

An orthodontist interested in maintaining trust and respect for his or her patients (and their patients’ respect for them) will choose the second option. It is the responsibility of an orthodontist to make sure that a patient is as informed as possible in order to make the right decision for their teeth.

If the patient in Greco’s article only wants to do what is best for the health of his teeth, he may not choose correction. However, if he likes the idea of a more beautiful smile, he may decide to do it. The choice is ultimately his, and it’s the orthodontist’s responsibility to make sure that that choice is the best one for the patient.

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