Have you been thinking about taking your child to an orthodontist soon? Perhaps you are considering getting your own teeth straightened. It’s never too late to receive the orthodontic treatment you need! 

If you’re considering orthodontic treatment for yourself or a family member, we invite you to read our interview below with Philly orthodontist, Dr. Helen Jeon. Learn about orthognathic surgery, the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist, and how different specialties relate to each other. 

Image of Dr. Jeon

  1. What is the difference between a general dentist and an orthodontist?

First of all, general dentists and orthodontists provide professional care to help our patients have good oral health.

General dentists provide frontline oral health care and teach patients how to prevent dental disease. They treat cavities, do extractions, and provide restoration treatment such as filling, crowns, veneers, and bonding. They also look for abnormalities in the mouth, for example, cancer screening. A general dentist will refer patients to a specialist if they find a problem requiring specialty expertise.

Orthodontists are specialists that focus on creating healthy, beautiful smiles by guiding the alignment of the teeth and jaws.

After four years of dental school, an orthodontist acquires specialty training from a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Through two to three years of intense education and clinical experience, orthodontists learn how to diagnose orthodontic problems, set up the ideal/alternative treatment plans, choose the proper orthodontic appliances, and achieve long-term treatment stability. 

According to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), only 6% of dental school graduates become orthodontists after completing an accredited orthodontic residency program. Following specialty training, orthodontists can pursue the American Board of Orthodontics (ABO) board certification process. Board certification ensures their lifelong commitment to providing high-quality patient care. It requires the successful completion of both written and scenario-based clinical examinations.

  1. You have specialties in orthodontics and periodontics, as well as a Doctor of Science in Dentistry (DScD). Can you describe the way you see these specialties interrelating and what your approach looks like for patients?

Prior to starting my Orthodontic residency at Penn, I completed my Periodontic residency in South Korea. While working as a periodontist at a private clinic, I provided many periodontal procedures on orthodontic patients, including clinical crown lengthening, exposure procedure on an impacted tooth, and miniscrew placement. That is how I got interested in pursuing orthodontic specialty training. 

Orthodontics and Periodontics are two very closely related specialties in dentistry. As we move the teeth, the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone around the teeth are constantly remodeling. For example, in patients with periodontitis, even light force (ideal for patients with healthy periodontium) can be detrimental. Orthodontic force can accelerate periodontal breakdown if we move a tooth in an uncontrolled, inflammatory condition. Nowadays, we see an increasing number of adult orthodontic patients who are more likely to have periodontal issues. To provide the best and safe treatment, we always make sure that our patients are under good “perio control” before starting the orthodontic treatment. Vice versa, orthodontic treatment can help patients maintain their periodontal health by straightening the crowded, overlapped teeth.

In addition, Periodontally Accelerated Osteogenic Orthodontics (PAOO) is the crossover of orthodontic and periodontal procedures. It combines alveolar corticotomy, bone graft, and orthodontic forces. The procedure increases bone volume, shortens treatment time, and improves posttreatment stability. Penn Dental Medicine has the only orthodontics/periodontics combined program in the country! We are actively providing the PAOO procedures to our patients after careful treatment planning.

My main research focuses on bone remodeling during the orthodontic treatment and clear aligner treatment. Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms in orthodontic treatment is very important, helping develop a precise strategy to accelerate the bone remodeling process, which can greatly benefit our patients by shortening treatment, achieving stability, and preventing a relapse. Also, “Clear Aligner Treatment (CAT),” which has high demands in modern Orthodontics, is a relatively new technique compared to the conventional bracket system with a lack of research support. I focus on the treatment efficiency with CAT in different scenarios. I hope this clinical research can help provide our patients with evidence-based treatment. 

  1. Can you talk a bit about orthognathic surgery and what that is, and why it’s important?

For patients whose malocclusions are too severe that neither growth modification nor camouflage option solves the existing issues, orthognathic surgery to realign the jaws should be considered.

For growing patients, we can use growth modification approaches to affect the jaw’s development. However, for adult patients, who do not have any remaining growth potential, orthognathic surgery will be the only option to correct severe skeletal discrepancies, while slight to moderate skeletal discrepancies can be treated with camouflage options, for example, teeth extraction.

Figure 1. With the ideal position of the upper incisors shown by the origin of the x- and y-axes, the envelope of discrepancy shows the amount of change that could be produced by orthodontic tooth movement alone (the inner envelope of each diagram); orthodontic tooth movement combined with growth modification (the middle envelope); and orthognathic surgery (the outer envelope). [Reference: William R Proffit et al. Contemporary Orthodontics (6th Edition)]

Figure 1. With the ideal position of the upper incisors shown by the origin of the x- and y-axes, the envelope of discrepancy shows the amount of change that could be produced by orthodontic tooth movement alone (the inner envelope of each diagram); orthodontic tooth movement combined with growth modification (the middle envelope); and orthognathic surgery (the outer envelope). [Reference: William R Proffit et al. Contemporary Orthodontics (6th Edition)]

Generally, orthodontic treatment combined with orthognathic surgery comprises 3 parts: presurgical orthodontics, surgery, and postsurgical orthodontics. Patients get orthodontic treatment less than a year before surgery (presurgical orthodontics). The critical points in presurgical orthodontics are to arrange the teeth so they will not interfere with placing the jaws in the desired position during surgery. Then patients receive the surgery and complete orthodontic treatment in 6-9 months (postsurgical orthodontics). The orthodontist and the oral surgeon work closely to determine the ideal surgical plan and monitor patients’ recovery after surgery.

  1. What makes Penn Dental Medicine the best Philly orthodontist?

We treat our patients with up-to-date knowledge and techniques from the ABO standard of high quality. Our postgraduate orthodontic clinic utilizes cutting-edge technologies for patient care, including the Cone-Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT), intraoral scanner, and 3D printer. Orthodontic residents treat our patients under the guidance of faculty, who teach both classical and state-of-the-art treatment philosophies. Also, Penn Orthodontics has a highly-collaborative relationship with other specialties in the School of Dental Medicine. Our smart, caring dental residents always seek to achieve the best for our patients!

In addition, we provide the orthodontic treatment at the Penn Dental Family Practice by full-time orthodontic faculty and experienced doctors at two different locations (Locust walk and University City).

What are you waiting for? If you need comprehensive orthodontic treatment at an affordable price, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with our office at 215-898-8985. We look forward to serving you!