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Braces aren't just for kids anymore.

Although there are many reasons for adults to consider braces, most people simply want to look and feel their best. Here are a few leading causes for a trip to the orthodontist:

A straighter smile. Who doesn't want to perfect their pearly whites for a winning smile? That logic might pay off. A study compared people's reactions to photos that were manipulated to show either straight or crooked teeth. People with straight teeth rated higher on scores of leadership, popularity, and sports ability. (The only score that didn't change was intelligence.)

Shifting teeth. Just because you had braces as a kid doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. "Teeth tend to move a little throughout your life," says Michael B. Rogers, DDS, past president of the American Association of Orthodontists. "Your teeth may shift a little back toward their original positions."

Better oral health. It’s no surprise that straight teeth are easier to brush and floss. So -- if you’re doing your part -- expect less decay and healthier gums, says Pamela K. McClain, DDS, past president of the American Academy of Periodontology. Antibacterial mouth rinses can also help keep your teeth and gums free of plaque-causing bacteria that can lead to gingivitis, an early, mild form of gum disease.

Braces can help manage some more serious issues, too, such as bite problems that cause jaw pain. In some cases, braces are needed to change the position of neighboring teeth for a new bridge, crown, or implant.

New Options

Today's braces are barely noticeable. Choices include:

  • Ceramic braces made of a clear material that's much less obvious than traditional metal braces.
  • Brackets attached to the back of teeth holding wires that pull them into a new position.
  • Customized plastic aligners that fit like tooth guards over teeth, gently moving your bite into a new position.

 

What to Expect

How long you'll need to wear braces depends on what you have done. Most treatments range from 12 to 44 months. "Adult teeth sometimes take longer than children's teeth to move into new positions,” Rogers says. “But in many cases there's no real difference."

Once teeth are in the desired position, you're likely to need to wear a retainer. Many orthodontists now recommend permanent retainers that are fitted and attached to the back of teeth.

Cost also varies widely depending on the extent of treatment. The typical range is $4,000 to $8,000. A growing number of dental plans cover all or part of orthodontic treatment. Many orthodontists offer discounts if you pay the entire fee up front. If you can't afford that, talk to your orthodontist about monthly installments or other payment plans.

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