Think braces are just for kids? Think again. Over 1 million grown-ups have some form of braces today, and over the past decade there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of adults getting braces.
"If you thought your chance for a straighter smile passed you by in middle school, you couldn't be more wrong," says Orthodontist Craig Crawford, DDS. "Today, there are more choices than ever for adults who want to pursue orthodontics. And having braces can not only improve your appearance, it can also improve your oral health. Crooked teeth and a bad bite can contribute to gum and bone loss, tooth decay, abnormal wear of the tooth enamel and surfaces, headaches and jaw joint pain."
Dr. Crawford says the reasons are often varied when an adult chooses orthodontic treatment. Some have
experienced crowding which is becoming more noticeable as they enter adulthood. In some cases gum disease has caused teeth to move, changing the person's bite. Prior to beginning bridgework, teeth may have to be moved or up righted in order to achieve a more acceptable result. Orthodontic treatment may be needed in order to correct a bad bite, thus making it easier for the patient to eat and function. "Many adults decide to get braces simply because they just want to look better," explains Dr. Crawford. "And many of our adult patients have wanted braces for years, but their family may not have been able to afford them when they were young. Now that they are adults, they can take care of this part of their appearance for themselves."
It helps that many technological advances have made braces less noticeable, less painful, and even less time-consuming. Transparent aligners that can be worn at night to improve mild cases of misaligned teeth are one option Dr. Crawford says are very popular with adults. When traditional braces are required, the newer clear brackets are also attractive to adults wanting to improve their smile. "Now, instead of separate bands of stainless steel being wrapped around each tooth, smaller translucent ceramic brackets are bonded directly to the front of the teeth. The ceramic brackets blend in with the teeth's natural enamel. The old metal bands also often touched the gums, causing irritation. The new brackets are much more comfortable. "
New high-tech wires have added to the comfort and convenience of braces. Old-fashioned wires required an
office visit every few weeks during which the orthodontist tightened the wire. Patients would experience sudden
intense force that would gradually diminish until it was time for their next appointment. But Dr. Craword says that newer space-age wires made with metals apply an even, gentle pressure over a much longer period of time. "It's a notably more comfortable process, and treatment time is shortened because there's no pause in the tension exerted on the teeth."
If you're wondering if treatment for adult orthodontics is any different from treatment for kids, Dr. Crawford says the answer is yes and no. Essentially, the process of moving teeth is the same. But because you're dealing with a more mature mouth, you've got a different set of possible scenarios. Adults are more likely to have some form of periodontal disease caused by a buildup of bacteria in plaque. Periodontitis is significant because it can damage the underlying support structures that hold teeth in place. Because an adult's mouth and jaw are no longer growing, getting teeth to move can be more challenging, but Dr. Crawford stresses that healthy teeth can be moved at almost any age.
If you decide braces are for you, the first step toward a straighter smile is a consultation. "Once you are properly screened for periodontal and dental health, there really is no age limit for braces," says Dr. Crawford. "And that's something to smile about."