Why does my orthodontist only want to remove two teeth in the upper arch?
The articles that attract the most comments on my blog are those addressing the removal of permanent teeth (also called pulling or extracting teeth). I sympathize with parents and patients who are worried about having perfectly healthy teeth extracted for orthodontic purposes. The explanations I’ve provided in other articles have helped many patients to understand why this can’t be avoided in many cases (see "Are there alternatives to having teeth removed for braces?" "Will having teeth removed ruin my face?" and "Why do I need teeth removed for my braces?" This article addresses a specific pattern that I've been asked about numberous times: removing two upper bicuspids only.
Three reasons to remove teeth
There are three main reasons that I remove permanent teeth during orthodontic treatment: crowding, protrusion, and camouflage of a jaw-size discrepancy. As much as I would like to avoid removing teeth, there are some mouths that are just too small for all of the teeth. In these cases, NOT pulling teeth makes the smile less attractive, less healthy, and less stable. Protrusive teeth are just crowded teeth that have been flared out away from the bone. If they were to be moved back over the bone where they should be (without removing any), they would overlap (be crowded). To relieve crowding and protrusion, your dentist many need to remove some permanent teeth. The space created is then closed to eliminate the crowding or reduce the protrusion. Done correctly, no one but you and your dental team will ever know that you’ve had teeth removed.
Surgery is really the only way to fully correct a jaw discrepancy
When the upper and lower jaws are genetically different sizes, the only way to truly make them match is surgical repositioning (orthognathic surgery). Surgery is required when patients have a severe discrepancy or want a specific cosmetic improvement (i.e. a bigger chin). Most patients however are fine with just having their “overbite” corrected without the surgery if the final result is attractive, healthy, and stable. Removing teeth in only one arch is the most common way to camouflage a jaw-size discrepancy. About two-thirds of my patients have an overbite. Mild to moderate overbites can be corrected with rubber bands or springs. In those with more moderate to severe problems, extracting teeth or surgically moving the jaws is necessary.
Removing teeth in only one jaw allows camouflage of jaw discrepancies
If a patient has a small lower jaw, removing two teeth in the upper arch allows the orthodontist to move the upper front teeth back to match the position of the lower teeth without surgery. This allows us to hide or camouflage your small lower jaw. The same thing can be done in some underbites. If conditions are just right, two teeth may be removed from the lower arch to allow the lower front teeth to be moved backwards correcting the underbite. If teeth were removed in both the upper and lower arches in overbite and underbite patients, the upper and lower front teeth would move together and no improvement would be accomplished. Please understand there are many variables that your orthodontist must take into account when determining if camouflage treatment is appropriate for you. This explanation is an over simplification, but you get the idea.
So if your orthodontist suggests removing teeth from only your upper or lower arch, chances are that you have a jaw-size discrepancy that he is trying to improve for you. I’ve been using this extraction pattern for over 20 years and in the right patients the results are amazing. Remember to ask your orthodontist about any extraction pattern that doesn’t make sense to you. The best patients are the most informed patients.
NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Because he has over 25,000 readers each month, it is impossible for him respond to all questions. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.