The length of time it takes to treat an orthodontic case varies considerably from patient to patient and is determined by several factors that are unique to each case. Some of these factors are inherent in the diagnosis, such as case complexity, and are therefore predictable indicators of treatment length. Other factors, such as patient cooperation, are somewhat less predictable, but equally important in determining the duration of treatment. For this reason, orthodontists usually approximate treatment time based on their experience with similar cases in the past (usually within about a 6 month range). Treatment times in general can range from 12 months to 36 months, however in most practices the average adolescent case will usually take about 22-26 months to complete. Listed below are some of the most important factors that will influence the duration of treatment.
Orthodontic case complexity
For obvious reasons, more complex orthodontic cases (severe dental or skeletal discrepancies, impacted teeth, missing teeth) will require a greater overall treatment time. Conversely, minor adjustments or partial treatment will require less treatment time. Based on the pre-treatment diagnostic analysis, your orthodontist should be able to indicate what aspects of a case add to its complexity and how it will effect treatment time.
Although it may come as a surprise to many, this aspect of treatment has perhaps the greatest influence in determining orthodontic treatment time. Patient compliance is essential in helping treatment move along efficiently. Wearing elastics, headgears and other auxiliary appliances as instructed, brushing and flossing well, as well as properly maintaining the orthodontic brackets and wires, will typically allow treatment to progress as quickly as possible. Failing to comply will result in treatment delays. Unfortunately, this is an aspect of treatment over which an orthodontist has little control. Poor patient cooperation is most often responsible for treatment times extending longer than estimated.
How and when a patient grows, especially if it is an integral part of treatment, will have an effect on how long it takes to complete an orthodontic case. This is especially true for cases in which the goal is to enhance lower jaw growth to correct an overbite. In such cases, an orthodontist will attempt to treat the case during periods of growth, however these times are difficult to predict, as is the extent of growth that the patient will experience. Treatments using growth modification often require a longer treatment time.
Adult cases tend to require longer treatment times than adolescent cases. Structural properties of mature bone, decreased tissue metabolism, and cessation of growth all contribute to slower tooth movement during orthodontic correction in adults.
Cases involving several dental specialists (jaw surgery cases, implant cases, restorative cases) generally have longer treatment times as a result of the increased level of communication necessary between the involved doctors over the course of treatment.
Dr. Charchut is a Board Certified Orthodontist practicing in both Lansing and St. Johns, Michigan. Read more about Dr. Charchut.