Study shows bad teeth lead to bullying in kids

badteeth1Preteens with unattractive teeth are likely to be bullied, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.

The study, which was conducted among sixth-grade students in Amman, Jordan, reveals a significant percentage of children experience bullying as a result of dental and/or facial appearance. Teeth were the top targeted physical feature to increase a child's chance of being bullied, followed by the child's strength and weight, the study showed.

A panel of top U.S. orthodontists, as well several pediatric dentists and orthodontists in Maryland, concurred with the study findings, saying it also holds true in this country. The orthodontists report they have treated many young patients who were teased and even bullied because of their teeth.

Dr. Gayle Glenn, president of the American Association of Orthodontists, reports that orthodontists have long been aware of the relationship between serious dental problems and self-esteem — no matter the age of the patient.

"A person's smile is very important in communication and interpersonal relations," Glenn says. "Teeth are very noticeable, so when they are unsightly or poorly aligned, this can be an easy target for teasing or bullying. Parents will often tell us that their child is being 'teased' about the appearance of his or her teeth."

Dental problems linked to self esteem

According to the study, the four most commonly reported dental-facial features targeted by bullies were spacing between the teeth, missing teeth, the shape or color of the teeth and prominent front teeth.

Kent Island pediatric dentist, Maggie McGrath, says she is familiar with this issue and finds it is most common when the problems are severe, such as in the cases of very crooked teeth or an excessive jaw misalignment. The social problems generally start in middle school, she says.

"Parents do let us know when this is happening and sometimes the child is referred to the orthodontist earlier than planned so that the cosmetic issues can be addressed," she says.

Dr. Robert Martin, an orthodontist in the Crofton area, agrees that if there is an obvious problem, an orthodontic exam should be scheduled.

"This is the first step to avoid any social problems in the adolescent years that may be related to physical appearance," he says. "It is important those children are seen at an early age, no later than age 7, to begin a course for correction."

Members of the AAO panel have found that early orthodontic treatment on a child being bullied can have a major beneficial psychological effect.