Sound sleep, thanks to jaw surgery, braces

Mr Ong before (left) and after the surgery and braces. The whole process took three years to complete.
Mr Ong before (left) and after the surgery and braces. The whole process took three years to complete.

More adults turn to orthodontic treatments for oral health and aesthetics

Cabby Henry Ong's braces and jaw surgery may look cosmetic but, in fact, have been life savers.

The 54-year-old used to suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea, which meant he could not have a proper night's rest. This, in turn, made him have a tendency to fall asleep while driving in the day and put him at risk of other health hazards, too.

However, in 2012, braces, together with reconstructive jaw surgery, allowed him to breathe properly. The whole process took three years to complete. He has since been cured of his sleep apnoea.

National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS) data shows a rise in the proportion of adult patients - above 21 years old - seeking treatment last year.

The proportion was 25.2 per cent, up from 21.3 per cent in 2014.

Adult patients form about 55 per cent of the total number of new patients fitted with braces at clinics in town and the central business district last year, compared to about 50 per cent in 2014, said the President of the Association of Orthodontists (Singapore)Geraldine Lee.

At her clinic in Orchard Road alone, she has seen a rise in adult patients, from about 55 per cent in 2013 to about 60 per cent last year.

Several orthodontists contacted cited reasons such as oral health and aesthetics to account for the rise in adult patients.

Dr Elaine Tan, a consultant at NDCS, said: "Gum disease, which can cause teeth to drift and become malaligned, is one reason to use braces."

Braces can also treat worn-out teeth, which occurs with age.

In Mr Ong's case, obstructive sleep apnoea was treated with braces and jaw surgery.

"By advancing the jaws forward, more space in the airway is created so patients can breathe properly in their sleep," said Dr Tan, who was Mr Ong's orthodontist.

Dr Lee added that braces help to shift teeth so that there will be space for implants and bridges. Bridges are made up of two crowns on either side of a gap, carrying a false tooth between them.

Although health is a reason why more adults are seeking dental treatment, a perfect smile remains a big push factor, Dr Lee said.

"In their youth, these adults may not have had the opportunity or the finances to wear braces."

There is also less stigma as there are more aesthetic options, such as clear aligners and tooth-coloured brackets.

Full treatment with metal braces for both upper and lower jaws at NDCS starts from $2,800 at a subsidised rate, excluding consultation fees. At Dr Lee's clinic, the same treatment costs about $5,000.

Treatment for adults is not without complications. "It often takes longer - up to 21/2 years - and requires more visits, as there is no more dental growth. Lighter forces have to be used to shift teeth," said Dr Lee.

Patients have to be diligent with their dental hygiene, Dr Tan added. "Complications such as tooth decay and gum disease can arise when patients do not clean well. "

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'Sound sleep, thanks to jaw surgery, braces'. Print Edition | Subscribe