Adult Orthodontics for Straighter, Healthier Teeth

Adult Orthodontics for Straighter, Healthier Teeth

Which type of adult orthodontics is right for you?

Braces aren't just for kids anymore. Nearly 1.25 million adults had their teeth straightened in 2012, up almost 15% from two years ago. Adults might see an orthodontist because they never had braces as children or because their teeth have become crooked as they've gotten older. "Teeth shift throughout your lifetime," says Lee Graber, DDS, MS, MS, PhD, an orthodontist in Vernon Hills, Ill., and past president of the American Association of Orthodontists. "The vast majority of adult patients come to me because their front teeth have rotated or overlapped, and they don't like their smile."

Fixing your teeth isn't just about improving your looks, though. Having a healthy-looking smile can also have big social and psychological benefits. "A nice smile and healthy teeth give you a good outlook and self-concept," says Dr. Graber. Straight teeth are also important for a healthy mouth. "By correcting teeth in a bad position, you can decrease wear and tear and keep teeth clean more easily," he says. And healthier, cleaner teeth mean less chance of tooth decay and gum disease, and possibly less risk of serious health conditions, including heart disease and stroke.

Most people who are thinking about straightening their teeth are happy to learn that today's orthodontic options mean you don't have to sport a metal smile for years on end. Depending on the extent of your problem, you may be a good candidate for these more discreet options.

  • Convenient removable aligners
  • Clear braces
  • Mini braces
  • Braces that fit on the back of your teeth
  • A combination of these treatments

The length of time required is "faster than ever," says Dr. Graber, thanks to new materials and techniques. Now, braces can come off in as little as 6 months for minor problems, and a year or year-and-a-half for more difficult cases.

What to Expect During Orthodontic Treatment
Orthodontists—dentists who have had 2 to 3 years of specialized education after dental school—often work with other dental professionals as a team to improve your smile. For instance:

  • If your teeth are crowded, your orthodontist might refer you to an oral surgeon who can extract a few teeth (often your bicuspids) to make enough room for your teeth to be more evenly spaced.
  • If your bite is off and your teeth have worn down as a result, your orthodontist will use braces to fix your bite first and then might refer you to a restorative or cosmetic dentist to fix the damaged teeth with natural-looking crowns or veneers.
  • If your crooked teeth have led to gum and bone problems, your orthodontist would work with a gum specialist to ensure the foundation is healthy before starting your treatment.
  • If you're missing any teeth, your orthodontist may be able to close those spaces. Or, your orthodontist might refer you to another specialist to get a dental bridge or implants.
  • Once your treatment is complete and your teeth are properly aligned, you'll need to wear a retainer for 6 to 8 months to prevent teeth from moving while the bone and tissues around the teeth settle. After that initial healing period, most patients are allowed to drop down to wearing the retainer only at night—eventually as little as one night a week or even one night a month. Because teeth tend to shift as part of the natural aging process, wearing the retainer occasionally will help maintain your new smile.

Most orthodontists treat both children and adults. When looking for an orthodontist, make sure the doctor is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists. Although orthodontic treatment is cheaper today than it was years ago, says Dr. Graber, it's still an investment. Many dental insurance plans cover a portion of the costs, and some patients may be able to take advantage of a flexible spending account or a dental office's interest-free payment plan. Either way, the end result—a beautiful, healthy smile—is priceless.

Medically reviewed in September 2018.

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