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How much have you spent on unnecessary dental treatments?

We’re told that orthodontic treatments benefit our health and well-being. Now some in the field challenge this claim, suggesting that Americans are spending billions on unnecessary dental procedures.

Peter Vig, Ph.D. in facial morphology, started to question what he had been taught about the necessity of orthodontic treatments and submitted letters to academic journals pointing out the lack of strong evidence for such treatments.

His questions weren’t exactly welcomed.

The American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics published a paper rejecting Vig’s claims. And he decided to quit.

Vig is now semi-retired, and despite changes in the field of orthodontics since the height of his career, he still believes orthodontic organizations haven’t stopped making claims unfounded in research. One of the main problems is the lack of patient knowledge that makes it hard to understand proposed treatments.

“If you tell a layperson” that a child has “mandibular hypoplasia, or maxillary deficiency, or adenoidal facies—it sounds bad,” Vig told The Atlantic. Parents don’t understand what they’re signing up for. “That,” Vig added, “is a problem.”

From 2010 to 2012, a report found that 16.8 percent of U.S. children between 10 and 14 years of age visited an orthodontist. Meanwhile, out-of-pocket spending on orthodontic treatments costs roughly $5.4 billion per year. The Atlantic reports that an additional $4.2 billion of that care is covered by private insurance and Medicaid, and some nonprofits cover treatments for families in need when Medicaid deems treatment medically unnecessary.

Marc Ackerman, an orthodontist and medical ethicist in Boston, does not believe individual orthodontists are intentionally misleading patients. He says the problem is that evidence isn’t valued as highly in orthodontics as tradition and clinical experience.

Do you think you’ve paid for unnecessary orthodontic treatments, thinking they were necessary for your oral health? Share your thoughts with Voices for Affordable Health.