Effect of Malocclusion on the Social Perceptions of Dental Students

DeHaan, D Andrew, and Burccu Bayirli

The objective of this study was to determine how dental students (prior to matriculation) perceive various malocclusions. The investigators proposed that these students would rate malocclusions proportional to the severity of a particular characteristic that differentiates the malocclusion from ideal. Furthermore, this study investigated the perception of malocclusions in male versus female, and the perception of visible decay.

Although termed with the prefix “mal” meaning “bad”, malocclusions are simply classifications of occlusion and not necessarily unaesthetic. In fact, a previous University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) study used an African American population to study the appeal of various malocclusions. So, how would these images be rated by dental students? To find the answer, first year students were surveyed during their orientation week – they had no formal dental education at this point.

A questionnaire was created in a 2003 study at the UDM by Jennifer R. Ludwig, DDS. The title of this study was “Effect of malocclusion on social perceptions in the African-American population.” To expand on this research, a new focus group was chosen – dental students. There were 55 unique images created, each with various degrees of malocclusions (spacing, crowding, overbite, openbite, overjet, and negative overjet). One male and one female facial image were used and the dentition was simply changed to eliminate variability. The images were presented to the focus group in a random order, and they were asked to complete a questionnaire for each image.

The results of the study showed a significant correlation between the severity of a malocclusion and how appealing the students found each image. There were statistical differences between how spacing was perceived in a male versus a female. Additionally, it was discovered that a visible carious lesion makes a dentition less appealing unless the malocclusion was considered severe enough, in which case there was no statistical difference between an image exhibiting dental neglect and one showing virgin teeth.

This research can used be in a variety of ways. Informing dental practitioners and patients of the perceptions of various malocclusions is the initial goal, as this evidence can allow for more informed decisions to be made regarding treatment options. Additionally, comparison between the original 2003 study and the one at hand would give further insight into the perception of malocclusions amongst two distinct focus groups. In the future, it would be fascinating to re-survey this dental student focus group during or after their dental education. Comparisons could then be made on how a relative dental lay person would perceive a particular malocclusion versus an educated dental practitioner. Taken as a whole, this research gives a unique insight into relative appeal of various malocclusions.