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Orthodontic Treatment May Not Help Psychological Health

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom – A major 20-year study by psychologists and dentists has cast doubt on the assumption that orthodontic treatment improves psychological well-being.

The multidisciplinary team studied the long-term effects of both orthodontic treatment and lack of treatment when a need had been identified in childhood, in a paper published in The British Journal of Health Psychology (January 22 2007).

Over a thousand 11-12 year olds were recruited to the project in Cardiff in 1981, and their dental health and psycho-social well-being assessed. They were re-assessed in 1984 and 1989 and finally in 2001, then aged 31-32.

Professor William Shaw of The University of Manchester, himself an orthodontist, said: "We revisited 337 of our original sample as adults, and those who had been assessed as needing orthodontic treatment in 1981 and received it had straighter teeth and were more likely to be satisfied with them.

"However orthodontic treatment, in the form of braces placed on children's teeth in childhood, had little positive impact on their psychological health and quality of life in adulthood.

"Further, a lack of orthodontic treatment in childhood did not lead to psychological difficulties in later life for those children where a need was identified but no treatment received.

"It can be concluded that, although in general participants' self-esteem increased over the 20-year period, it was not as a result of receiving braces and didn't relate to whether an orthodontic treatment need existed in 1981. This runs contrary to the widespread belief among dentists that orthodontic treatment improves psychological well-being, for which there is very little evidence."

The team, which included academics from the University of Roehampton (London) and Cardiff University's Dental School, also concluded that the health or attractiveness of a person's teeth is a minor factor in determining their psychological well-being in adulthood.

Fellow researcher and psychologist Dr Pamela Kenealy of Roehampton said: "Teeth are important to an individual's self-perception during adolescence, but by adulthood other factors have greater significance. So while it may make a minor contribution to an individual's perception of self-worth, orthodontics cannot be justified on psychological grounds alone."

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact:Jo Nightingale: 0161 275 8156/ (Mon - Weds am)Mikaela Sitford: 0161 275 2111/ (Weds pm - Fri)

Notes for Editors

The paper 'The Cardiff dental study: A 20-year critical evaluation of the psychological health gain from orthodontic treatment,' by Dr Pamela Kenealy ((School of Human and Life Sciences, Roehampton University), Professor William Shaw (School of Dentistry, The University of Manchester), Anne Kingdon (Health Promotion, National Assembly of Wales) and Professor Stephen Richmond (Dental School, Cardiff University) is available upon request.

The research programme was initially funded by The Welsh Office and later by the Department of Health, the Medical Research Council and the NHS R&D Programme.

Manchester School of Dentistry ( has a strong track record as an innovator in teaching and learning, introducing an outreach programme as early as 1974 Đ some thirty years before most of its competitors. It is consistently rated as one of the best dental schools in the UK and was recently awarded maximum points in the Government's Teaching Quality review, with special commendation for its student support, IT infrastructure and use of problem-based learning.

It comprises around 500 students and 40 academic staff, and conducts research with the overall aim of understanding the scientific basis of craniofacial and oral health. It incorporates two research themes:

  • Health Sciences undertaking clinical trials, population-based studies and systematic reviews
  • Basic Science, working in craniofacial research and biomaterials research and development for dentistry.

The School is committed to improving the health of the community, directly providing care via its Dental Hospital, outreach clinics in Greater Manchester and its strong links with local Primary Care Trusts.

Psychology at Roehampton University

Psychology is a well-established and expanding subject area within the School of Human and Life Sciences at Roehampton University. British Psychological Society accredited undergraduate programmes and postgraduate courses in Applied Psychological Research and Applied Music Psychology are offered to a diverse range of students, from all backgrounds. All teaching reflects our commitment to link teaching and staff research and recent developments within the discipline.

Psychology research is carried out in two research centres. The Clinical and Health Psychology Research Centre aims to promote psychological and physical wellbeing through basic and applied research and the provision of evidence based guidance for individuals, organisations and policy makers. The Centre for Research in Cognition, Emotion and Interaction, researches basic psychological processes relevant to autism, cognition and emotion and cognitive neuroscientific approaches to emotion.

SOURCE: University of Manchester School of Dentistry

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