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You're Never Too Old for Braces

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space placeholder.Braces in Her 30s.
space placeholder.Braces in Her 40s.
space placeholder.Braces in His 50s.
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Tin grin. Metal mouth. Brace face.

Anyone who had braces as a teenager probably will recognize at least one of these taunts. Today, advances in orthodontics are making braces less obvious, teasing less likely, and adults more willing to undergo treatment. These days, 20% to 25% or more of orthodontic patients are adults. More than half of those are women.

"Some adults have postponed orthodontic treatment for a variety of reasons that include cost or being embarrassed about the prospect of wearing braces," says Thomas Cangialosi, D.D.S. Dr. Cangialosi is chairman and professor of Orthodontics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

"Many adult patients, however, are pleasantly surprised to find that orthodontic treatment is affordable," he says. "Also, braces today tend to be less uncomfortable and are smaller and less visible than they used to be. In fact, some conditions may be treated with clear brackets or clear aligners. so they no longer need to be concerned about how they will look in braces."

Your orthodontist will tell you what options are available for the treatment of your particular problem.

Some adults may have had straight teeth when they were younger, but teeth are embedded in bone, and bone can change with increasing age. Where teeth are concerned, these changes usually show up as crowding or spacing of teeth.

The use of implants also has made treatment possible for many adult orthodontic problems that could not be treated in the past, Dr. Cangialosi says. "If you have healthy teeth and gums and strong supporting structures, you are never too old to receive orthodontic treatment."

Some adults express concern that delayed orthodontic treatment will be more difficult or painful or will take more time than a child's treatment, Dr. Cangialosi says.

"This is not necessarily true. Moving teeth at any age involves the same process. So the amount of time it takes to successfully complete treatment depends more on the severity of the problem, patient cooperation and the position of the jaws, than it does on age," he says.

Adult treatment may take slightly longer because an adult's facial bones are no longer growing, he says. "However, adults tend to be more compliant with their treatment and follow the orthodontist's instructions in wearing some treatment aids such as elastics. This may actually lessen treatment time."

It's also important to continue your visits to your family dentist at least every six months while having orthodontic treatment, Dr. Cangialosi says.

There's no age limit for braces. This is an important consideration as people take better care of their teeth and keep them longer.

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space placeholder.Braces in Her 30s
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Chicago software designer Alexandra Dreier got her braces when she was 30. Two years later, when the braces were about to come off, she was just as excited about it as any teenager would be.

Dreier's teeth have always been straight. However, she was missing some permanent teeth. Before she could get dental implants to replace them, she needed braces to correct a slight overbite that could damage the thin porcelain coating on the crowns placed over the implants.

Dreier got clear, plastic brackets (the part that's bonded to each tooth). Clear brackets can be an alternative to metal brackets for treatment of some orthodontic problems.

Still, "in the beginning I felt self-conscious," she admits. "But [the clear brackets] make a huge difference. People say they can hardly see them."

She sees both pros and cons to having braces as an adult.

"In a way, I guess it's easier if you're a teenager and all your friends have them," she says. "But people are much more mature and supportive about it when you're an adult. It makes you wonder about dating, though, because guys aren't really seeing what you look like."

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space placeholder.Braces in Her 40s
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Debbie Schaffer, a Malvern, Pa., homemaker, says her teeth weren't straight as a child, but "the dentist told my parents I didn't need braces." So she didn't get them — until she turned 40, and her daughter started visiting the orthodontist. "My daughter was going through it, so I went through it too," she says.

Because she also had several friends who either had braces or were about to get them, Schaffer didn't feel self-conscious. She also had clear brackets, but would sometimes ask the orthodontist to use colored rubber bands to "jazz them up."

Like many adults with braces, Schaffer was diligent about caring for her teeth and gums.

"When I first got [my braces], they showed me photos of what happens when you don't brush properly. That was enough to gross me out!" she says.

After 18 months, the braces came off. Shaffer is still happy with the results. "It gives me self-confidence in my smile," she says. "I didn't realize how much [the appearance of my teeth] bothered me until I got them fixed."

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space placeholder.Braces in His 50s
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Alan Haeberle had straight teeth as a kid. His wisdom teeth also came in straight, with no problems. "But when they came in, they pushed some of my teeth out of line," he says. One tooth stuck out far enough that he would bite his lip. Haeberle also had problems flossing between the crowded teeth.

By the time he was in his 40s, the Washington, D.C., archivist was thinking about getting braces. It wasn't until age 58 that he made the decision, however.

"They put braces on the bottom first, and about a year later they put the top ones on," he recalls. "Getting used to them was an adjustment. There was a lot of irritation at first… but then it doesn’t bother you as much."

Haeberle has found "more adults than you'd expect" with braces. "I know a number of people who have them, so we compare notes," he says.

After about 18 months, Haeberle started using rubber bands between his top and bottom teeth. "It's sort of a pain, remembering to put them on," he says, since they must be removed before each meal and then replaced.

Like Schaffer, Haeberle made visits to the orthodontist a family event. He went to appointments with his daughter, who also had braces.

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