Abstract This study compared adolescents’ self-perceived need for orthodontic treatment with the normative need for such treatment and investigated associations between socioeconomic and demographic variables and self-perceptions of dental malocclusion. This cross-sectional study involved 1015 schoolchildren aged 12–15 years in São Luís, Maranhão, Brazil. The following data were collected using a questionnaire and an orthodontic examination card: demographic and identifying data, socioeconomic data, educational levels of family, household income, economic classification criteria, and self-reported skin color behavioral data, and oral health data. Normative occlusal condition was examined using the Angle classification and Dental Aesthetic Index (DAI). Data were analyzed using the chi-squared test (to analyze differences in the frequency distribuition of qualitative variables) and Poisson regression (to stimate associations between the perceived need of orthodontic treatment and study covariates), with a 5% significance level. Schoolchildren’s self-perceived need for orthodontic treatment was associated with sex (p = 0.022) and the normative need for treatment (p = 0.004). Among socioeconomic, demographic, and oral health variables, only sex [prevalence ratio (PR) = 1.15; 95% confidence interval (95%CI) = 1.04–1.28; p = 0.009] and the normative need for orthodontic treatment (PR = 1.19; 95%CI = 1.08–1.32; p < 0.001) were associated with the perception of malocclusion, with female adolescents reporting a greater need for orthodontic treatment. Female adolescents seems to be more sensitive to oral health problems. The results suggest that the DAI score might reflect a self-perceived need for orthodontic treatment and the Angle classification might overestimate the orthodontic treatment need.