While it’s true that teens comprise the largest cohort of orthodontic patients, younger children and older adults are swiftly closing the gap. The old idea that braces are just for teenagers is outdated.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, one in three patients wearing braces is an adult. This number has risen sharply even within the past decade. Just a few years ago, only one in five orthodontic patients were adults.
Because of advancements in orthodontics, we now understand that braces offer much more than simply cosmetic appeal. Orthodontic care can actually be an integral part of your oral and physical health. And with several inconspicuous options now available, you can receive full service orthodontic treatment without others ever knowing it.
The even better news is that it’s never too late. Whether you are seeking orthodontic care for the first time or are a veteran in need of a tune up, there is no age limit on braces. Adults of all ages, including seniors, can benefit from orthodontic treatment.
What If I’ve Had Braces Before?
If you had braces as an adolescent but need them again as an adult, you are not alone. Many adult orthodontic patients have worn braces at some point in the past. This is because your teeth continue moving throughout your life, and, as you get older, they can naturally move out of alignment.
Our teeth also suffer natural wear and tear from years of biting and chewing, giving them a bit more wiggle room than they once had. Additionally, bone density decreases as we get older, which also can cause teeth to shift. For some, this movement is much more noticeable than for others.
For some, the primary reasons for wanting braces might be cosmetic, but they also might be medical. Many adult orthodontic patients come as referrals from general dentists. The changes in our teeth over time can affect your bite, which can accelerate tooth decay or lead to several painful conditions, such as jaw pain, facial pain, headaches and ear aches.
Most people will likely benefit from revisiting orthodontic care later in life. This is especially due to the fact that orthodontic issues, if left untreated, are likely to evolve into significant dental problems as you age.
Benefits of Treatment
Some of the common conditions that appear in conjunction with dental and orthodontic issues include:
- Gum or Bone Loss—Adults are more likely to have recessed gums or bone loss because of gingivitis or periodontal disease.
- Worn or Missing Teeth—As you age, your teeth can become worn down and begin to shift into different positions that can only be fixed through orthodontic treatment. Adults are also more likely to be missing a tooth, which can change the position of the teeth around that space, leading to a bad bite or gum disease.
- Gum Disease—Poor oral hygiene and misalignments of the jaw can affect the health of your gum tissue. If the teeth and gums are not able to be cleaned correctly, plaque will build up, causing gum tissue to swell, which can lead to the growth of particularly harmful bacteria.
- Gastrointestinal Upset—An improper bite might mean that you are unable to chew your food correctly, possibly leading to stomach aches and pain.
Unlike adults of past generations, we have braces as an option to alleviate a lot of our dental and related medical issues. Treating dental problems with braces when appropriate can significantly reduce your chances of needing dentures or implants in the future.
Types of Treatment Available
Many adults are wary of orthodontic treatment because they are haunted by decades-old memories of years spent with a mouth full of metal. But, modern technology has advanced the rate of treatment in orthodontics, as well as decreased the frequency of necessary adjustments.
In addition, there are now options for the types of braces that most patients can wear.
- Ceramic Braces—Ceramic braces are made of translucent, or clear, material, which makes them very popular with adult patients.
- Lingual braces—Similar to conventional braces, these are applied using metal brackets – but on the backs of your teeth instead of the front.
- Aligners—Aligners are clear plastic trays that slip over your teeth, similar in appearance to retainers. However, unlike retainers, these must be worn constantly, except during meals and brushing (which amounts to about 22 hours a day). You will switch the aligners every two weeks as your teeth adjust.
Not all types of braces may be appropriate for your particular case, so you will need to discuss options with your orthodontist.
Differences in Treatment
If you wore braces as a child, you will likely find your experience as an adult to be different. Innovation in orthodontics have made braces more comfortable than in the past and has provided many options to make them less obtrusive.
You also will find the pretreatment procedure to be quicker and easier than in the past. Today, digital technology allows your orthodontist to receive a complete picture of your mouth, so you don’t have to bite into a tray of clay-like material to create a mold of your teeth.
Though you are never too old to get braces, there are some differences between braces in adolescents and adults that you should be aware of. The advantage of early orthodontic treatment is that bones are still growing in kids and teens, which makes them more malleable. In adults, some structural changes that could be accomplished by orthodontics in children can only be accomplished by surgery.
For adult patients, the orthodontist typically works more closely with a dentist to develop a treatment plan than they would with adolescent patients. It is important that your teeth and gums are healthy when you enter into orthodontic treatment and that any underlying gum disease is under control. Gum disease is widely prevalent in adults, but not as much with youngsters.
Adults also may have some existing breakdown, loss of teeth, or loss of bone that supports the teeth, which may require gum and dental treatment in conjunction with orthodontics. More frequent cleanings at the dentist’s office are often required for adults to maintain healthy gums and teeth during orthodontic treatment, as adults’ teeth are more susceptible to the growth and buildup of plaque.
Treatment times also are longer, on average, in adults compared to children. Without a consultation with an orthodontist, it is impossible to approximate how long your treatment will take, but the average orthodontic patient wears braces for about two years. Your grown-up habits also can impact your orthodontic care, so it is important that you follow your orthodontist’s instructions for caring for your teeth during braces.
Whether you’re considering braces for the first time or revisiting orthodontic treatment again, just know that you’re never too old to address alignment issues that could dramatically affect your oral and physical health, as well as give you the smile you’ve always wanted.