Teeth Straightening Options for Adults
You’re Never Too Old for a Great Smile
When most of us think of braces, we picture a knock-kneed kid with a network of metal wires crisscrossing his teeth. Tin grin. Metal mouth. Brace face. But what if you’re long out of junior high and you decide you’d like to make some changes in your smile? Lucky for you, orthodontic advancements over the past 15 years allow persons of any age to correct crooked teeth, close gaps and much more, without those traditional wires and brackets telling the world what you’re about.
In fact, many orthodontic practices today see about 50/50 adults and children. Whether you didn’t have braces as a child or you did but didn’t follow through with wearing your retainer. Whether your teeth have shifted over the years, you’ve become more conscious of the way they’ve always looked, or you have medical reasons for seeking proper alignment, there are some great adult-friendly options for straightening your teeth.
Here’s the lowdown, from a few of our local experts.
Basm Fallah, DDS sees a lot of adults at her NRH Orthodontics. “Many of my adult patients have spent years putting their kids first,” she said. “They’ve seen what braces did for their children and once they’re grown, they have time to do something for themselves. That’s when they consider braces. My oldest patient is actually 72.” One popular choice for Dr. Fallah’s adult patients is Invisalign clear braces, alone or in combination with other techniques.
“Invisalign is a series of clear, removable orthodontic aligners that straighten teeth without the use of metal or wires,” she said. “Each custom-made aligner moves the teeth progressively into place and is switched out, after two weeks. Invisalign takes a bit longer than metal braces, but older patients like them, because they’re not as noticeable, and they can be taken out for special occasions or to eat. A few of my adult patients still wear metal braces, but because they also do Invisalign, they don’t wear the metal ones as long. ”
Then there are Lingual braces, which are metal braces applied out-of-sight, behind the teeth. “Lingual braces can be uncomfortable, with wires and brackets up against the tongue,” said Mark Allen, DDS of Allen and Allen Orthodontists. “But they’re almost impossible to see, even up close.” Linguals are a bit more expensive than other options and make it tougher to keep teeth clean and to talk at first. But to patients who are adamant about indiscernible tooth straightening, they’re a good option.
Clear Ceramic Braces
Another almost invisible alternative is clear ceramic or tooth-colored braces which look more like a retainer, although many people won’t notice them at all, even from a couple of feet away. “The wire is still silver but the brackets and ligatures are clear or tooth-colored, so they aren’t noticeable,” Dr. Allen said. Ligatures can stain with foods such as curry or with black coffee, but they’re changed out frequently, so that’s not a big concern. Many patients simply avoid those foods while wearing ceramic braces.
James Watson, DDS of Watson Orthodontics is discovering many benefits of orthopedic expansion of the upper and lower jaw. “Expanding the jaw can improve the results of Invisalign or other braces and shorten treatment time,” he said. “It can help make room for crowded teeth eliminating the need to pull them. But it can also offer cosmetic benefits such as widening the smile, giving more definition to the chin, more fullness to the lips and a more pronounced cheek bone. Through jaw expansion I can offer the same results as plastic surgery, making someone look 5 or 10 years younger, and unlike plastic surgery, skeletal change is permanent and doesn’t have to be redone in a few years.”
Relief of Head, Neck and Jaw Pain
Marc Whitmore, DDS of Whitmore Dental uses proper tooth alignment to alleviate chronic head and neck pain in his patients. “Often migraines or other chronic pain in the head, neck and jaw is caused by misalignment of the jaw,” he said. “I begin with a 90-day bite therapy, to move the jaw into proper alignment. Most patients will start experiencing relief, within the first week. Once we have the jaw properly aligned, we can follow that up with Invisalign braces, to make the change permanent.”
Because misalignment of the jaw is often caused by a jaw that’s too narrow, Dr. Whitmore can use jaw expansion in conjunction with Invisalign to create a rounder jaw and reposition crowded teeth. “Form follows function,” he said. “If we can get the teeth in proper alignment, we can relieve the chronic pain, reduce the wear on teeth and—a side benefit—make the patient more attractive when we’re done.”
Trust an Expert
In closing, Cameron Jolley, DDS of Jolley Orthodontics offers this caveat. “It’s important that you have your teeth straightened by a qualified orthodontist,” he said. “Invisalign and other new options are like tools in a carpenter’s belt, but the principles of tooth movement don’t change, no matter what technology you use. An orthodontist is a dentist who spent two to three extra years of training, learning these principles. It’s like seeing a cardiologist—a heart expert—for your heart problem. Even with new options on the market, the essential understanding of the biology of tooth movement is what matters and an orthodontist is the best qualified person to apply them.”
Dr. Jolley added that straightening teeth is about more than cosmetics. “Poorly aligned teeth can affect your overall health and the longevity of your teeth,” he said. “Misaligned teeth are hard to keep clean and are more prone to cavity, fracture and uneven wear.”
So whether you’re considering straightening your teeth for aesthetic reasons or medical ones, there are many great adult-friendly options and many qualified practitioners in our area to administer them. And you’re never too old to make a start.