||Orthodontists Market to Adults Seeking Prettier Smiles
Once as closely associated with adolescence as algebra, orthodontists have in recent years treated growing numbers of adults.
From 1994 to 2010, the number of Americans 18 and older getting braces or some other teeth-straightening treatment from an orthodontist has jumped 58 percent, to 1.1 million from 680,000 annually, according to the American Association of Orthodontists.
Over the same period, the number of patients under 18 increased at a slower pace of 15 percent. In 2010, adults accounted for 22 percent of patients, up from 17 percent in 1994.
Now orthodontists are introducing what they say is a first -- a national advertising campaign pitched primarily to prospective adult patients.
New commercials from the association show adults almost exclusively. Actors with enviable smiles beam in the ads, with one woman saying her straighter teeth gave her self-confidence, another saying she likes flashing her pearly whites on dates and a man in his 30s saying, "It's never too late."
The only two children in three spots are portrayed with parents. In one, the father of a boy says, "So then he said to me, 'What about you, Dad?' "
One reason for the commercials is to differentiate between dentists and orthodontists. Dentists are increasingly getting into the teeth-straightening business with clear, removable aligners made by companies including Align Technology, which makes Invisalign.
"Whether you're considering clear liners, retainers or traditional braces, an orthodontist is the smart choice," says the voiceover. "Orthodontists are specialists in aligning teeth and straightening your bite, so get a great smile that feels great, too."
While the implication is that going to a dentist for a straightening procedure like Invisalign (which orthodontists offer as well) would not be a "smart choice," orthodontists make the point with some delicacy because they are so reliant on dentists for referrals.
The commercials are by Athorn, Clark & Partners, a Manhattan marketing communications company. They began running in January on cable channels including Bravo, TLC and the E! Entertainment Television.
The campaign, which also includes print, radio and online advertising, has an estimated budget of $5 million.
Highlighted at the end of each spot is the new link for the orthodontist association, MyLifeMySmile.org, formerly Braces.org.
"A lot of people who are 30, 40 or 50 probably have a fairly outdated idea of what orthodontics is and they probably go back to a time when it was literally a mouthful," said George Clark, a co-founder of Athorn, Clark & Partners, which also designed the new site.
Along with encompassing orthodontics beyond braces, the new name may imply that treatment can improve not just looks, but outlooks.
"It's a shift away from this being a decision about an appliance or a specific technology" but instead being "a personal issue and a health issue," Mr. Clark said.
"We're trying to emphasize the adult market and show how good they're going to look and how much self confidence that's going to create," said Dr. Michael B. Rogers, the president of the American Association of Orthodontists. "There are many adults on the fence and we want to show them the benefits of braces."
Dr. Rogers, who has been in practice for 38 years, with offices in Augusta and Thomson, Ga., said adults accounted for about 5 percent of his patients when he began, compared with as many as 25 percent today.
The cost of orthodontic treatment -- including conspicuous or inconspicuous braces and clear aligners -- ranges from about $5,000 to $6,500 in Dr. Rogers's practice. The average duration for treatment for all orthodontic patients is 22 months, according to the American Association of Orthodontists.
Among Dr. Rogers's adult patients, about half are parents who decided to get treatment after bringing in their children for braces, with some even deciding to do so concurrent with their children.
"Some will go right into treatment with their children, and there will be a mom along with her two kids in the treatment bay," Dr. Rogers said.
Mr. Clark, the marketer, said among the materials being designed to circulate in orthodontists' offices are posters and pamphlets aimed at parents transporting their children to the office. "It's a crass term" in a clinical context, said Mr. Clark, "but you do have a cross-selling opportunity there."
The first known marketing for teeth straightening, according to a 2005 article in the Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, was placed in 1796 by Josiah Flagg, who advertised that he "regulates teeth" in order to "prevent pain and fevers in children" and "assist nature in the extension of the jaw, for a beautiful arrangement of a second set of teeth."
For actors cast in the latest commercials, the marketers had an unusual requirement: they must have previously had orthodontic treatment. (Or, in the case of the boy and girl in the ads, be wearing braces.)
And while those who were cast have winning smiles, they are not generally traffic-stoppers.
"They had to look attractive but not too pretty like they just stepped off a fashion runway," said John Athorn, the other co-founder of Athorn, Clark, about the actors. "We're selling good, healthy smiles, but at the end of the day we hope people will see them as attractive yet recognizable -- and not so otherworldly."
(Source: The New York Times, 02/02/12)
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