Can you ever be too old for braces? In a word, no. More and more adults are getting the smile they’ve always wanted by adding braces to their dental treatment. In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists released data noting that 20% of orthodontic patients are over the age of 21. But are there differences between child and adult braces, and how much do adult braces cost? Let’s explore the answers to these and other FAQs about adult braces.
1. Why are adult braces becoming popular?
There are a couple of reasons why adults are turning to braces to perfect their smile. First, there’s a matter of health. Left untreated, malocclusion – or misaligned teeth – can lead to a number of serious health issues including:
- Problems with chewing, speaking, and/or biting
- Gastrointestinal problems from inability to chew food properly
- Jaw pain
- Trouble cleaning the teeth properly, leading to plaque and food accumulation between teeth
- Increased incidence of tooth decay and periodontal disease
- Gum and bone erosion
- Irregular wear of the tooth enamel
- Facial pain
- Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD, often incorrectly called “TMJ”)
Many of these problems don’t surface or aren’t diagnosed until adulthood, so patients don’t feel the need to seek out orthodontic treatment until then.
We’re also taking better care of our teeth, and we expect them to last a lifetime. Not all that long ago, dentures were considered a rite of aging, so keeping teeth strong, healthy, and looking good was not as high of a priority as it is today. Now we understand that if we properly care for our teeth, there’s a good chance they’ll be with us our entire lives. So why not have them looking – and functioning – their best?
Then there’s the fact that today’s braces are made to be less noticeable and more wearer friendly. Gone is the mandatory metal-mouth look (though traditional metal braces are still available). Braces wearers now have many different options, including almost-invisible transparent aligners.
Occasionally, the teeth of adults who had braces as children or teens significantly shifted in the years after their removal. So they may need to be refitted with a new set of braces to get back the smile they once had.
Finally, many adults now have dental insurance, which brings down the cost of orthodontic treatment. What may have been financially out of reach in childhood is now possible.
2. Is there an age limit to getting braces?
Absolutely not! Teeth can move at any age, and even people in their 60s and 70s have gotten braces!
3. Is there a difference between braces for adults and braces for children or teens?
Technically not. The types of braces available today can be worn by anyone. However, there are some age-related concerns about orthodontic treatment itself for adults. Adult patients often have conditions younger patients don’t suffer from, such as insufficient bone between the roots for adequate blood supply, mild gingivitis, and marginal bone loss. The bones are also harder and no longer growing, like those of children and teens. This can cause the teeth to take longer to adjust to their new positions.
Sometimes, in an adult patient with a deep overbite, there may not be enough room in the mouth to create space for the teeth to move back without extracting one or more teeth. Also, by adulthood, a patient might also have worn down one or more teeth, which can worsen an overbite.
Then there may be an issue with previous tooth extractions. Many adults have had one or more teeth removed in the past. This can present a problem because old extraction sites may not be suitable locations for teeth to move into, unless those sites are restored by adding sections of prosthetic bone to the area. Closing gaps between the teeth caused by extractions – and keeping them closed – is also difficult, because adult bone doesn’t respond to pressure in the same way as growing bone. However, orthodontic treatment is still a viable option even with these conditions. So optimum tooth alignment – and the beautiful smile that comes with it – is achievable for adults.
4. What kinds of braces are available for adults?
Adults (as well as teens and children) have a wide variety of orthodontic options. Which to choose depend upon their individual needs, lifestyle, and budget.
Transparent aligners like Invisalign® have opened up a whole new world of orthodontic treatment. The nearly-invisible look of clear aligners has made them an extremely popular option for adults. The trays are completely clear, and even if you need additional alignment aids – such as attachments, which are “bumps” of dental bonding material – they blend in with the natural color of the tooth. In addition, Invisalign trays don’t interfere with eating or speaking, and they’re less likely to irritate soft tissue surrounding the teeth.
Transparent aligner treatment typically consists of a series of 18 to 30 custom-made, mouth-guard-like clear plastic aligners. The aligners are removable, but are meant to be worn 22-24 hours a day and replaced every 2 weeks. The length of treatment averages 6-18 months.
Patients with relatively mild cases of crooked teeth, protruding teeth, gaps, or over/under bite issues are good candidates for transparent aligners. In some cases, they can reduce or eliminate nighttime bruxism, or tooth grinding. Also, if you participate in contact sports, clear aligners are a better choice over traditional braces that may be damaged by impact.
However, transparent aligners aren’t a good match for patients who need extensive orthodontic treatment, those who need canines or premolars rotated, have back-tooth bite issues, or those who need teeth realigned vertically.
Traditional Metal Braces
Traditional metal braces are often the best type orthodontic option for some patients, especially those patients with complex tooth alignment issues.
Traditional braces are a system of brackets bonded directly to the front of the teeth. The brackets act like handles, holding “arch wires” that move the teeth. The brackets are often connected with a system of bands, spacers, springs, and other mechanical appliances to gradually move and align the teeth. The length of treatment differs from patient to patient, but on average, the desired results can be reached in 2 years.
Metal braces are a good choice for patients who need extensive dental alignments or who don’t have the discipline to wear orthodontic trays for 22 hours a day. Traditional braces also work with patients who have back-tooth bite issues, need to rotate canines or premolars, or move teeth vertically. Patients who want the maximum results in the minimum amount of time might consider traditional metal braces. They work faster at closing gaps and aligning teeth than of clear aligners.
However, if you enjoy playing contact sports, traditional metal braces aren’t for you. They’re not designed to withstand impact, and repairing the damage caused by a hit, fall, or ball to the face can involve significant repairs and cost.
Ceramic braces, such as Clarity™ ADVANCED, pack all the tooth-alignment power of traditional braces, but have are less noticeable, thanks to tooth-colored or clear brackets that blend in with your teeth.
Any patient who would benefit from wearing traditional metal braces would be a good candidate for ceramic braces. These appliances work with simple or complex tooth alignment issues. The treatment time varies based on the patient’s individual needs, but average time to achieve the desired results is 2 years.
Just like with traditional metal braces, if you enjoy playing in contact sports, ceramic braces are not for you. They can break or chip, making them even more delicate than traditional metal braces.
Lingual braces, like Incognito™ Hidden Braces, are positioned behind the teeth instead of in front of them. They offer the power and treatment speed of traditional metal or ceramic braces, but are nearly invisible without close inspection.
Lingual braces are custom created for each patient, so having a set made and installed can be a lengthy process. First, an impression is made of the patient’s teeth, which is then sent to a dental laboratory and used to create customized brackets. Creating the braces takes about 6 weeks. Once complete, an orthodontist will use a specific process to cement the braces onto the back surfaces of your teeth.
Like traditional braces, lingual braces work by applying gentle yet continuous pressure on the teeth to slowly guide them into proper position. The treatment can take anywhere from 18-36 months, depending on the severity of a patient’s overcrowding of teeth or their bite.
Anyone who would benefit from traditional braces, but doesn’t want the look, would be a good candidate for lingual braces. But because lingual braces can impair speech and cause tongue irritation, patients who do a great deal of speaking might want to look at other orthodontic treatments.
5. How much do adult braces cost?
The cost of adult braces is comparable to those for children and teens. However, because adult patients often have pre-existing dental conditions (such as bone or tooth loss), orthodontic treatment for adults can be more complicated, making total treatment more expensive. The following information is a rough estimate of the cost of different kinds of braces. Always consult your orthodontist for a cost based upon your individual needs.
Transparent aligners – The average cost for a set of transparent aligners is $5,000,
Traditional metal braces – The most affordable option, traditional braces usually run $3,000 and $7,000.
Ceramic braces – Expect to pay $4,000 to $8,000 for ceramic braces.
Lingual braces – Because of the special process of creating and fitting lingual braces, this treatment often costs $8,000 to $10,000.
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