When patients come to my office for a consultation, the first question I ask is what bothers them about their teeth. Almost always, the answer is that they want their front teeth straightened, preferably as quickly as possible. They are often surprised (or even frustrated) when the plan I create for them also addresses their back teeth and their bite.
“But doctor,” they ask, “I just want my 6 front teeth straightened. Why are you making a plan that is unnecessarily complicated and prolonged? I don’t really care about my bite or my back teeth, so wouldn’t it be cheaper and quicker for you to just do as I ask?”
And the answer is that, yes, it would certainly be cheaper and take less time to just straighten the 6 upper front teeth. But that doesn’t mean it would be a good idea. You see, when we move teeth from their natural position into an artificially straight position (which is what orthodontists do), if we don’t account for the bite we could end up creating all sorts of problems.
Straightening teeth without treating the bite can create overbites, underbites or crossbites – all of which can damage the teeth. It can cause gum problems or jaw aches. It can cause the teeth to protrude (stick out) or slant and make the smile look unappealing.
The reason we orthodontists care about your bite is not because we want your treatment to take longer or cost more, but rather because we know that if we don’t take your bite into consideration you may not be happy with the final results, and your dental health may be negatively affected.
Unfortunately, there are products on the market that are designed to just straighten the front teeth without addressing the bite. These are usually offered by general dentists who lack the orthodontic training to understand why they are not a good idea. Such products include “6 month smiles” which promises straight teeth after 6 months, but makes no guarantees about the bite. They also include Invisalign, if done by non-experts who are not able to correct bites with aligners. Dentists offering these services don’t often explain to patients why they SHOULD care about their bite, or what can go wrong if the bite is not addressed.
In today’s customer-driven market, patients expect to get what they ask for without necessarily knowing the implications of their requests. They may find a practitioner willing to treat only their front teeth, but eventually discover that doing so leaves their teeth in a worse state than they started with. Think about it this way – if straightening your front teeth without correcting the bite was a good idea, orthodontists would be happy to do it for you! We love happy patients! But if our training and expertise tells us that doing so would not be a good idea, patients would be wise to listen.