When you’re a teenager, being appearance-conscious and self-conscious are both pretty common. After all, it’s a time when you’re exploring your own identity (or identities), trying to figure out where you fit in and who you want to fit in with. Even those who reject labels and cliques can be painfully aware of image and what it seems to say about a person.

So it only makes sense that the state of their smile could have a big impact on a teen’s well-being. A malocclusion – literally, a bad bite – is just one thing that can have a negative effect, aesthetically and functionally, on a teen’s oral health-related quality of life (OHRQoL).

Yes, that’s a real measure we use in dentistry.

OHRQoL is “a multidimensional construct,” as one paper put it, “that includes a subjective evaluation of the individual’s oral health, functional well-being, emotional well-being, expectations and satisfaction with care, and sense of self.” It’s a measure that, in the words of another paper, “reflects on people’s comfort when eating, sleeping, and engaging in social interaction; their self-esteem; and their satisfaction with respect to their oral health.”

A recent review of the literature in Evidence-Based Dentistry confirms how a misaligned bite can affect a teen’s OHRQoL. Relevant scientific studies were drawn from five major databases of biomedical research. Thirteen studies in all made the cut.

After synthesizing and analyzing all the data, the review team found, with moderate confidence, “that malocclusions…in adolescents aged 11-14 years old have a negative impact on OHRQoL.”

This, of course, raises the question: Does correcting the bite orthodontically improve a person’s oral health-related quality of life? Studies suggest so, and we’ve looked at some of that research before. But with teens, does the type of ortho treatment matter?

That was the focus of a 2021 study, which sought to evaluate patient orthodontic experiences and quality of life in teens. Seventy-four teenagers took part, with half getting conventional braces and half getting Invisalign. Questionnaires were used to assess the impact of treatment on the patients’ lives.

With respect to quality of life, both groups were actually about the same. “Both treatment groups reported fairly high and similar quality-of-life scores,” the authors noted, “indicating a low negative impact of their respective appliances.”

But there were some very important differences, as well.

  • The Invisalign group demonstrated faster adaptation to treatment.
  • The fixed-appliance [braces] group was 3.8 times more likely to report having to miss school.
  • The fixed-appliance group was 2.7 times more likely to report having difficulty eating.
  • Females between the ages of 14 and 18 years in the Invisalign group reported feeling attractive more often than those in the fixed-appliance group.
  • Participants between the ages of 14 and 18 years in the Invisalign group reported feeling confident more often than those in the fixed-appliance group.

With those benefits, is it any wonder that teenage patients – not to mention their parents – tend to prefer Invisalign? While there are some cases in which conventional braces are the better choice to create the best outcomes, Invisalign can be used to correct a wide variety of malocclusions – and without the risk of anyone ever calling you “brace face” or “metal mouth.”