Your smile is one way to express yourself. But if you’re worried about how your teeth look, you may not feel comfortable sharing a great big smile. Crooked or missing teeth can be embarrassing, and they may even affect your dental health.
The good news is that you can get your teeth straightened no matter your age. Braces aren’t just for kids. Even adults aged 50 and over can benefit from treatment by an orthodontist.
Braces for Older Adults
You may think braces only work on kids. Or perhaps you had braces when you were younger but aren’t sure they will help now.
Braces do work faster when the jawbones are growing during childhood and adolescence. But teeth continue to shift as we age, so there's never a time when braces won’t work.
Braces adjust teeth by putting pressure on them, and this pressure works even after bones have stopped growing. It takes longer to straighten teeth in adults because bones are more solid. Still, braces are effective at any age.
If you want to straighten your teeth, start by making an appointment with an orthodontist—a doctor who specializes in aligning teeth, jaws, and bite patterns. They’ll take x-rays to learn the shape of your mouth and how they might realign your teeth.
Your orthodontist will then suggest a plan for straightening your teeth, including how long it should take.
Types of Braces
Once you decide to straighten your teeth as an adult, you may have options for what kind of braces to wear.
Traditional braces. If you opt for traditional braces, your orthodontist will attach metal brackets to each tooth and link them with wires. You’ll have appointments to adjust the wires periodically, and you should plan to wear the braces longer than a younger person would.
The brackets on traditional braces are visible. Brackets made of ceramic the same color as your teeth are also available if you are self-conscious about metal brackets. Ceramic brackets are less obvious than metal brackets, but they are still visible.
Clear aligners . Clear aligners are removable trays that fit over your teeth, with each tray adjusting your teeth slightly over time. They are clear and hard to see, making them a good option for people who may be self-conscious about wearing traditional braces.
These aligners can be removed when eating or brushing your teeth. They're easy to care for and can be cleaned with warm water and soap or toothpaste.
If you choose clear aligners, your orthodontist will give you a series of trays, which you’ll have to change every few weeks. They take about the same amount of time to show results as traditional braces.
At-home aligners. There are some brands of aligners you can order directly without seeing an orthodontist in person. Especially if you have a complicated dental history, you should consult an orthodontist.
Lingual appliances. If you are self-conscious about wearing braces as an older adult due to their appearance, consider lingual appliances. Lingual appliances are placed behind the teeth so no one can see them. Some people find, however, that lingual appliances can irritate the tongue or make it hard to speak.
Surgery. In some cases, you may need surgery as well as braces. This is usually due to issues with your bones that affect your ability to use your jaw. After the surgery, you’ll need other types of braces or orthodontics.
Retainers. After any sort of teeth straightening, your orthodontist will prescribe retainers. These are removable appliances that you wear to prevent your teeth from shifting. Typically, you wear them overnight, and they can become part of your lifelong dental care routine.
Braces as an Adult: Pros
The first benefit of straightening your teeth as an adult is cosmetic. Correcting crooked teeth can improve self-confidence and help you feel better about your appearance.
Braces also help with more serious issues. Teeth move over time, and your teeth may no longer line up as correctly as they once did.
The resulting misalignments might result in uneven wear on your teeth or you may wear down dental crowns or fillings. Misaligned teeth can cause pain in your jaw and face or keep you from closing your mouth correctly.
Braces can correct all these issues and improve your overall dental health.
Braces as an Adult: Cons
The downside to getting braces is that the process is long and can be uncomfortable. You may need to wear braces or use aligners for a year or more. The placement and adjustments to the braces may make your teeth and jaw sore. Braces with brackets may irritate your lips and tongue as you get used to them.
Another issue with braces is cost. Full treatment from an orthodontist may cost thousands of dollars. Sometimes dental insurance will help with the expenses, but not all plans cover braces for adults.
Choosing to straighten your teeth as an adult is a commitment of time and money. However, a straighter smile and improved dental health may be worth the effort.