Key Differences Between Adult Orthodontics and Kids' Orthodontics

With developments in orthodontics in recent years, more and more adults are seeking treatment for oral difficulties they've been experiencing since childhood. There are significant differences between adult orthodontics and that of children and teens, however, it's worth knowing what they are before making a decision to pursue treatment. Here are the key differences between orthodontics for adults and for younger patients:

Age-Related Considerations

Adult patients often have conditions younger patients don't often suffer from, such as insufficient bone between the roots for adequate blood supply, mild gingivitis infections and marginal bone loss. The bones are also harder and no longer growing, per the Journal of Oral Health and Community Dentistry, and the aging of tissue often causes them to take longer to adjust to your teeth's new positions. These are known as biomechanical limitations, which can make tooth realignment a more involved process in adults than in younger patients.

Bite Correction Concerns

One of the primary reasons patients require orthodontic treatment is to correct a malocclusion, or improper bite. In an adult patient with a deep overbite, according to Kokich Orthodontics, there is often not enough room in the mouth to create space for the teeth to move back without extracting one or more teeth. By adulthood, a patient might also have worn some of his teeth down, which can make the overbite worse. Orthodontists refer to these problems as perio-restorative issues, and typically focus on making the adult patient's bite functional rather than perfect.

Tooth Extraction Issues

Many adults have had one or more teeth extracted in the past, and this can present a problem for the orthodontist. Old extraction sites may not be suitable locations for teeth to move into, unless these are restored by adding sections of prosthetic bone to the area. Closing gaps between the teeth caused by extractions – and keeping them closed – is also difficult, because adult bone doesn't respond to pressure in the same way as growing bone.

Appliance Placement

Many orthodontic appliances are bonded to your teeth using dental cement, particularly for less visible options such as lingual braces. This makes it vital for the patient to maintain strict oral hygiene during the process, using products such as Colgate® Phos-Flur® to help prevent decalcification.


Patients undergoing adult orthodontics treatment have a higher risk for root resorption than children. This occurs when your body reabsorbs the root of a tooth, leaving the tooth without anchorage. Factors that play a role in this include family history, oral habits and the type of roots you have, according to Dr. Barry McArdle.

If you are susceptible to root resorption and the treatment causes friction that affects your roots, the teeth may simply become loose and fall out over time. By monitoring your teeth closely, the orthodontist can watch for signs of resorption. But if it isn't caught early, it's generally untreatable.

Adult patients also have a greater risk for temporomandibular disorder (TMD), and symptoms can develop during conventional orthodontic treatment, explains Dr. Duane Keller. It's important for the orthodontist to carefully assess your risk for TMD before recommending personal treatment.

Psychosocial Factors

There are a number of psychological and social factors that affect adults interested in treatment. These include higher levels of:

  • Treatment expectations
  • Concern with appearance
  • Discomfort from wearing appliances
  • Willingness to cooperate with orthodontic instructions

Adult patients obviously want the best results, in the shortest amount of time and with the lowest level of discomfort or inconvenience. They also want to know more about what the orthodontist is doing and why, and may look for more information about the cost breakdown of each portion of treatment.

With adults now comprising up to 50 percent of patients, some practices are focusing their attention on the specifics of adult orthodontics. If you're considering some corrective treatment, consider the issues that can affect you.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Top Oral Care Tips Related to ADULT ORTHODONTICS

  • Flossing – creating a flossing routine is important during orthodontic treatment. Orthodontists and hygienists may recommend interdental brushes or floss threaders to make getting in between teeth easier.

  • Brushing routine – using fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush are ideal for cleaning teeth with braces. Begin brushing at a 45-degree angle at the gum line using small circular motions. Then place the toothbrush on top of the brackets, angling down to brush on top of each bracket. Finally, reposition the brush to brush the bottom of the bracket as well as the wire, angling the toothbrush up.

  • Fluoride mouthwash – after brushing and flossing, rinse with a fluoride mouthwash to help prevent cavities and white spots.

  • Mouthguards – wear a mouthguard if you play sports. Mouthguards can protect your cheeks and lips from serious cuts and can prevent damage to your braces or orthodontic appliance if you fall down or are hit in the face.