Adult Braces: Are They Worth It?

If you're considering adult braces, you've probably already thought about the aesthetic benefits of doing so, which are indisputable. But the benefits of having necessary dental and orthodontic work extend beyond mere vanity. Because crooked teeth, improper jaw positioning, and a misaligned bite can cause a myriad of problems as you age, braces are as much an investment in your oral health as they are a future confidence booster.

They say eyes are windows to the soul. As it turns out, your teeth probably reveal far more information about you. You can estimate a person's age, physical health, sex, and even socioeconomic class fairly reliably by glancing at his or her teeth. Furthermore, studies have shown that teeth heavily influence self-esteem and ratings of physical attractiveness. There's no question that teeth are important, and that's one of the many reasons more and more adults are getting braces.

Aesthetic Concerns

Research has consistently borne out the focus society places on teeth. For example, a 2013 study published in the "Open Journal of Stomatology" examined the influence of teeth on the smile and physical attractiveness. Researchers took two identical photographs and digitally manipulated the teeth on one of them. They then posted the photos to an online dating site and counted the attempts to contact the person. The profile photograph with the better dental aesthetics received nearly five times as many contact attempts as the other.

Another study published in 2012 in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) ONE determined that teeth convey mate quality. Researchers in this study digitally manipulated photos for tooth color and spacing. The results indicated that any deviation away from traditional spacing and a white color negatively affected ratings of attractiveness, especially in females.

The researchers concluded that, among humans, teeth serve as "ornament displays." Ornament displays in animals reveal information about developmental history, present disease, and genetic quality to both potential rivals and prospective sexual partners. In other words, the appearance of your teeth constantly telegraphs information upon which others judge you, perhaps even subconsciously.

Long-Term Oral Health

While cosmetic reasons for getting adult braces are both valid and compelling, they pale in comparison to the oral and physical health reasons for doing so. Perhaps you needed braces as a child but never had the opportunity, so you continue to struggle with various orthodontic concerns. Alternatively, maybe you didn't need braces as a kid but have developed problems as you've aged. Some people's teeth shift more over time, and the natural growth of your jaw can also cause positioning issues.

Whatever your reasons for waiting until now, you can't afford to let your dental and orthodontic problems go untreated. Here are just a few of the health risks that may arise from crooked teeth, overcrowding, overbites or underbites, jaw joint disorders, and incorrect jaw position:

  • Headaches
  • Earaches
  • Problems with chewing, speaking, and/or biting
  • Gastrointestinal problems from inability to chew food properly
  • Jaw pain
  • Trouble cleaning the teeth properly, leading to plaque and food accumulation between teeth
  • Increased incidence of tooth decay and periodontal disease
  • Gum and bone erosion
  • Irregular wear of the tooth enamel
  • Facial pain
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD, often incorrectly called "TMJ")

Given these serious health risks, many adults see braces as a valuable investment in their long-term health. Decades of straight teeth and drastically improved oral and physical health are well worth a few years of awkwardness, expense, and occasional discomfort.

Options for Adult Braces

One of the reasons adults now make up almost 50 percent of orthodontic patients is that braces have evolved considerably in recent years. Adults can now choose from an array of unobtrusive appliances, whereas traditional metal braces may have been the only option when they were teens. Below, we've summarized all the latest orthodontic treatment options available for adults.

Metal/Conventional Braces: Good for Quickly Straightening Very Crooked Teeth

While metal braces are usually what people think of when they hear "metal mouth," modern metal braces look nothing like the unsightly orthodontia of the past. For one, the brackets are much smaller, no longer wrapping around the entire tooth. You can also customize the color of your bands to make them as unnoticeable as possible. Additionally, heat-activated archwires are now available that use your body heat to move teeth with more speed and less pain than in the past.

Pros: Usually, the least expensive option. Ideal for people with serious bite problems or very crooked teeth who want straight teeth as fast as possible.

Cons: Most noticeable.

Ceramic Braces: Good for Adults Who Want Discreet but Quick Orthodontia

Ceramic braces are identical to metal braces in shape and size, but, instead of metal brackets, they have clear or tooth-colored brackets. Some ceramic braces even use tooth-colored archwires to look even more inconspicuous.

Pros: Much subtler than metal braces. Work more quickly than Invisalign option.

Cons: Cost more and break more easily than metal braces. May stain easily without proper care.

Lingual Braces: Good for Adults Who Want Benefits of Metal without the Visibility

Lingual braces are mostly the same as traditional metal braces, but the archwires and brackets are applied to the back of the teeth. As a result, no one will be able to tell from the outside that you have braces.

Pros: Invisible from the front.

Cons: Cost; difficult to maintain; ineffective for serious cases; initial discomfort; adjustments are more difficult and time-intensive than with metal braces.

Clear Plastic Aligners (Invisalign): Good for Moderate Cases Who Value Invisibility Over Speed

With the Invisalign option, your orthodontist will make you 18 to 30 customized clear plastic aligners that resemble a mouth guard. You'll put in a new mouthpiece every couple of weeks. This option is especially attractive to adults because they can brush, floss, and eat normally.

Pros: Almost impossible to see; no wires or brackets; no food restrictions; easy to clean teeth.

Cons: Not effective for severe cases; cost; don't straighten as quickly as other options; can be easy to lose and expensive to replace.

Costs and Treatment Times

The average adult wears braces for 12 to 20 months, costing around $5,000. Most dental insurance plans won't cover braces for patients 18 years of age and older. For this reason, you might want to consider investing in a dental discount plan that will reduce the cost of your braces. The Carefree Dental discount card can help you save anywhere from 15 to 50 percent per visit on your dental care, and is accepted at more than 161,000 dental practices nationwide.

What Life Will Be Like with Adult Braces

Adults' teeth don't move as quickly or as painlessly as teens' do, so you can expect some discomfort initially and when you get your braces adjusted. Think of it as the difference between moving teeth in cement instead of JELL-O; adults' teeth just don't cooperate as well. You might find you have trouble speaking and eating at first. However, the discomfort usually only lasts for a few days after an adjustment, and over-the-counter pain relievers typically do the trick.

While you have braces, it's especially important to practice good oral hygiene. If you have traditional metal braces, food and plaque can easily get stuck between your gums and teeth. To prevent this, you'll need to follow your orthodontist's flossing and brushing instructions carefully. Try to limit carbohydrates, carbonation, and sugar to keep your teeth and braces healthy. Diligent oral hygiene will help you avoid tooth decay and may prevent decalcification, or white spots, on your teeth once the braces come off.

What Not to Eat with Braces

Depending on the type of braces you get, you might have a few food restrictions to avoid damaging your appliance. Basically, you should stay away from foods that may harm or pull off your braces. Certain foods can get stuck in your teeth and appliance, bend archwires, and/or dislodge your brackets and bands. Any damage to your appliance will likely result in additional treatment time, so make sure you avoid the following:

  • Sticky foods like gum, caramel, and taffy
  • Popcorn
  • Ice
  • Candy
  • Crusty bread (including pizza crust)
  • Pretzels
  • Corn on the cob
  • Raw carrots
  • Nuts
  • Beef jerky
  • Hard cookies

Preparing for an Initial Consultation

Now that you've done research on your orthodontic options, it's time to consult with a professional about which appliance is right for you. You might consider asking your dentist if he or she can refer you to an experienced orthodontist for a consultation. When you meet with your orthodontist, come prepared with questions, such as:

  • Am I a good candidate for [the type of braces you want]?
  • How much will the recommended appliance cost?
  • How long will I have to wear my braces?
  • Do you have appointments available that work with my schedule? (Some orthodontists have early morning, evening, and Saturday appointment times to accommodate adults' work schedules.)
  • How much experience do you have with adults with my problem?

Getting braces as an adult has never been more affordable or convenient. With so many discreet, effective options to choose from, now is the perfect time to invest in your appearance and your health with adult braces.

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