Braces – they’re not just for kids any longer. These days, people in every age group want their teeth to look their best. If you’re an adult who never got the braces or dental treatment that you needed as a youngster, or if you’ve struggled as an adult with teeth that are misaligned, is it too late for you to get braces? San Diego family dentist Jonathan Fung says, “The short answer is ‘no.’”
Dr. Fung explains, “There are a couple of caveats to this though. Firstly, the older that you are, the slower that your bone tends to remodel so braces will tend to work a bit less efficiently as one ages. Secondly, if you have had radiation therapy in the jaw or are taking bisphosphonates, braces probably will have a diminished effect due to the slower healing nature of the bone that’s affected. Beyond that, there are very few contraindications to orthodontic treatment throughout life.”
Some adults were never provided any treatment as children for problems like crowded or crooked teeth, overbites, underbites, incorrect jaw positioning, or jaw joint disorders. Left untreated over time, these conditions inevitably lead to gum disease, tooth decay, headaches, ear aches, and even problems with biting, chewing, and speaking. For many adults, braces are the solution.
Believe it or not, about a million adults in the United States now wear braces. Braces can align and straighten your teeth, improve your smile, boost your self-confidence, and even make dental hygiene easier. But before you make the decision to go for braces, you’ll want to consult with your family dentist regarding your treatment options, and you’ll want the answers to these questions:
• What type of braces will work best for me?
• How long will I be wearing the braces?
• How do I take care of my teeth while wearing the braces?
• How often will an office visit be required?
• How much will braces cost?
• What payment plans are available?
• Will my insurance cover braces?
• What happens after I stop wearing the braces?
WHAT KINDS OF BRACES ARE AVAILABLE FOR ADULTS?
Many adults may not realize that braces have changed a great deal since they were kids. If the first image of braces that comes to your mind is a teenager with a mouthful of metal, you may not know about the currently available alternatives. Of course, the exact type of treatment and braces that a San Diego family dentist will recommend depends on how your teeth move now and what straightening them will require. The options for most patients include:
1. Conventional braces: You probably know that conventional braces apply gentle pressure to the teeth over time to nudge them into place. Brackets are glued to the teeth and connected with a wire that will need to be tightened every four to six weeks. Every patient is different, so only your dentist can give you a more precise estimate, but most adults who need braces wear them for 18 to 36 months.
2. Ceramic braces: Ceramic braces are a popular option for adults. The brackets are the color of your teeth, so it’s less likely that others will notice. However, ceramic braces are usually somewhat more expensive than conventional metal braces, and it takes a lot of work to maintain their look.
3. Lingual braces: Lingual braces attach to the back of your teeth rather than the front, and their invisibility to others is their main advantage. Lingual braces can be costly and difficult to clean, but they’re nevertheless right for some people.
4. Clear aligners: You can avoid the brackets and wires – and much of the discomfort, too – with see-through plastic trays called clear aligners that fit directly over your teeth. You can take aligners out for eating, brushing, and flossing. Clear aligner braces are rapidly becoming the popular choice adults for adults who need braces. Clear aligners are customized for each patient and are made from clear plastic, so they’re almost invisible.
Veneers are yet another option. Veneers are thin, tooth-colored porcelain layers that are placed on top of the teeth. Veneers are a popular option for fixing dull, stained, or even slightly chipped teeth. Veneers are not braces, but for many patients, they are a convenient way to improve the smile without putting pressure on teeth like braces do. This doesn’t mean that veneers are always entirely trouble-free, however. In some cases, a dentist may have to shave off part of a patient’s tooth before placing a veneer.
WHAT BRACES ARE BEST FOR ME?
The answer to the question “What braces are best for me?” will hinge entirely on a patient’s financial resources and on that patient’s individual needs. Your dentist or orthodontist will help you to understand your options and discuss what works best for you. Whatever you choose, you’ll be making a commitment when you have braces, and you’ll need to know what that commitment entails. When you have braces, you’ll have to:
• Get a checkup, usually every four to six weeks.
• Watch what you eat and be careful with – or avoid – hard and sticky foods.
• Brush and floss longer, more frequently, and more thoroughly.
Once your teeth are straighter and you no longer need the braces, cleaning them will be easier – but you’ll genuinely have to focus more on brushing and flossing. If you do not clean your teeth thoroughly and frequently, braces will not help you in the long run. Of course, everyone needs to brush and floss their teeth, and most of us need to brush and floss more frequently and more thoroughly.
WHAT IF YOU SUFFER FROM GUM DISEASE?
Braces can only help you if your gums and bones are healthy enough to withstand the pressure that braces apply over time. But if you suffer from active gum disease, this is no time to think about getting braces. The gum disease must be treated first. Almost half of the adults in the United States have some type of periodontal disease, and when it’s mild – like gingivitis – people may not even realize it. But if it remains untreated, periodontal disease may lead to receding gums and gum pockets and the eventual loss of the teeth. Periodontitis, the most severe gum disease, is the number one reason why adults in the United States lose their teeth.
Your family dentist will be glad to explain more about gum disease, braces, or any other dental health issue. Get regular dental checkups and a professional cleaning at least twice a year, and brush your teeth at least twice a day, thoroughly, for at least two full minutes. Floss your teeth once a day if you can. These days, there’s simply no reason today to be embarrassed about your smile or to put up with discomfort when you speak, eat, or brush. If you need braces as an adult, you have more options now than ever before.