Orthodontists today aren’t just seeing tweens and teens visiting their offices for braces. In the United States, one in five orthodontic patients today are adults; many are in their twenties, but there are increasing numbers of adults in their 40s, 50s and beyond seeking straighter teeth and corrected bites, as well.
The increase in braces for adults is not only due to their cosmetic benefits, but to the flexibility in treatment programs. Many adults who didn’t have braces when they were younger now have a variety of options for treatments, and the number of adult orthodontic patients in the U.S. and Canada is estimated at approximately one million.
The changes in technology make braces a more feasible option for many older adults. In addition to the less expensive traditional braces, there are ceramic braces, which use a tooth-colored bracket; lingual braces, which sit behind the teeth; and Invisalign, a clear plastic aligner similar to a mouth guard that is replaced every two weeks and must be worn at least twenty hours per day.
With these additional alternatives, orthodontists are able to tailor the treatments of adult patients to their lifestyle needs. Many adults worry about how the orthodontic appointments will interfere with their work, travel plans, and interactions with clients; having less visible braces and shorter treatment times can help allay some of these concerns.
The growing acceptance for braces as an adult has arrived on the back of a generational shift in terms of what adults expect from their teeth. Even those in their 50s and 60s consider a year and a half with braces to be a relatively short amount of time in comparison to the benefits of the straight teeth they get to enjoy for the rest of the lives.
Twyla-Lea Jensen, who got her braces as an adult, said in an interview, “It’s improved my confidence in my smile.” Jensen stated that she was previously nervous about whether strangers would notice her braces, but the only time she received comments was when others would point out that they had had braces in adulthood, too.
Beyond cosmetic goals, some adults need to correct lifelong problems with their teeth and jaws, such as crooked and crowded teeth, overbites and underbites, incorrect jaw position, and jaw joint disorders like TMJ. These issues don’t just present an aesthetic challenge for many adults; braces are also used as a treatment to avoid health problems like tooth decay, gum disease, wear on tooth enamel, and headaches and earaches, in addition to functional problems with speaking, biting, and chewing. For many adults, braces are a way of avoiding the need for dentures as seen in previous generations.
Overall, adult patients choose braces for a variety of reasons, but all adults appreciate the benefits that newly straightened teeth give them for both health and looks. One orthodontist said of a patient in her 70s, “At the end [of the treatment] she was hugging me and almost in tears about how much it changed her life.”