Spoiler alert: You’re never too old for a perfect smile or relief from jaw joint discomfort.
Orthodontics does more than create a beautiful smile. It can fix jaw alignment problems due to crooked and missing teeth and can help relieve many TMJ problems that cause chronic pain, broken or chipped teeth, and headaches.
As a child, maybe your family didn’t have the money or health insurance coverage necessary to get your teeth straightened. Or perhaps you grew up in an area that lacked access to proper dental care. Maybe you had braces as a child but didn’t wear your retainer as much as you should have.
Nowadays, with many dental benefit plans offering adult orthodontic coverage and more employers providing FSAs that can be used for just about anything medical or dental, more adults than ever are seeking out the beauty and function of a straight smile.
In fact, more than 25% of the current 4 million orthodontic patients in the United States are adults.
Is There a Difference in Treatment?
While the overall treatment plan for children and adults is essentially the same, there are some minor differences.
Adult orthodontic treatment plans often take a little longer because children’s teeth move more quickly than adults. Most childhood orthodontic cases are timed with growth spurts, a time when the bones and ligaments are a little more pliable than during adulthood. As a result, a child’s treatment time is usually a little shorter. Every case is unique, but an adult can expect treatment to last about two years, give or take.
Some adult cases also require more than some brackets and wires, which adds to treatment time. If a child has a narrow palate, they would usually be fitted with a palatal expander that would slowly widen the roof of the mouth. When an adult has a narrow palate, surgery might be necessary to give the teeth space to move into their proper place because the bone has long since stopped growing and shifting on its own.
In the past, many adults would have said no thank you to wearing metal brackets for two years. But with today’s technology, there are straightening methods for everyone!
Clear aligners are made of medical-grade plastic that resembles whitening trays. They are worn for 22 hours per day and are only removed for eating, brushing, and flossing. After a digital model of your mouth is made, a series of trays are fabricated. The exact amount varies depending of the complexity of your case. Each set of trays is worn for about two weeks and moves your teeth a tiny bit toward their ideal position.
While aligner treatment works for about 90% of straightening cases, some tooth movements may not be possible.
In those cases, traditional braces are still the only way to get the results necessary for a straight smile and healthy jaw/joint relationship. Traditional braces are now available in metal, porcelain, and even plastic. These brackets are fixed to your teeth with dental cement. Some brackets can be cemented on the tongue side of your teeth, concealing them from view.
Archwires are slid through the brackets and held in place using small O-rings. These O-rings come in a variety of colors and are changed each time you go in for an adjustment, usually every 4-6 weeks. Sometimes small elastic bands and other guides will be used to help shift a tooth in a specific way.
Regardless of the orthodontic method, dedication to a strict brushing and flossing routine and frequent professional cleanings will help prevent white, demineralized stains and cavities.
Something for Everyone
Adult orthodontics has become a popular option for many who missed the chance to have braces as a child or who may not have been as dedicated to wearing their retainer as a teenager as they should have.
Traditional braces and clear aligners both produce straight teeth and proper jaw alignment, combining beauty and function. While identifying problems early in life may allow faster treatment, it’s never too late to have a gorgeous smile!