Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Monica Nguyen.

If your smile is less than dazzling, brace yourself: Adult orthodontics is a hot trend. Today’s materials are lighter, cheaper and more effective than the ‘metal mouth’ options we grew up with. The number of adults choosing to straighten their teeth and improve their smile has increased by 40 percent in the past two decades, according to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). In its most recent study, the AAO reported that more than 1.4 million patients in the U.S. and Canada were adults, up from one million in 2012.

Adults can still have the smiles they’ve always wanted with orthodontics. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Monica Nguyen.

“I think the stigma of braces and orthodontics has changed,” says Dr. Jay Philippson, an orthodontist in Duncan, BC. He has seen a big increase in the number of adult patients since he opened his practice 25 years ago. Today, about 10 percent of his clients are between 45-70.

“Some people are only interested in cosmetics, but our goal as orthodontists is to achieve an ideal occlusion – an ideal bite. Along with that comes ideal aesthetics.”

In addition to straightening your teeth – at any age – braces can also realign your jaw to improve your bite while closing gaps in your smile or spacing out overcrowded teeth.

Orthodontics can also improve your overall health, helping to avoid serious periodontal issues stemming from misaligned bites and crooked teeth, including decay, worn enamel, headaches and jaw pain.

The AAO’s data also revealed that 75 percent of patients surveyed reported improvements in their professional and personal lives once their teeth were fixed. Many Boomers are at points in their careers where they can also afford to literally put their money where their mouths are, and most understand the impact it can have on self-confidence.

Turning frowns upside down

“When you’re in the service industry, smiles are very important,” says Christine Joly, a financial planner in Mississauga, ON, who sought orthodontic treatment in May at age 62.

“Starting 15 years ago, I had typical adult overcrowding on the bottom, where my teeth started bending inside towards my mouth, overlapping each other and banging on my crowns. I ended up with a gap between two of them, which I really hated, and it kept getting worse. There was no point replacing the crowns unless I corrected my bite. Plus, I didn’t want my teeth to look bad when I was 70, 80 or 90.”

Joly now sports clear aligners – also known as Invisalign – and she joins a legion of adults including some famous ‘brace faces’ such as Faith Hill, Tom Cruise, Faye Dunaway and Danny Glover, all of whom opted for orthodontics after age 40.

“It’s amazing how fast and how effortlessly my teeth have moved; my only regret is I wish I’d done it earlier,” says Joly.

Dentists are seeing an increase in Boomer patients who are looking to improve their smiles. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Damien Walmsley.

Many orthodontists report increasing numbers of Boomer clients, including Dr. J. Eric Selnes, an orthodontist in Mississauga, ON and vice president of the Canadian Association of Orthodontics. “My practice has developed into about 50 percent adults, and piles of them are in the 50-plus age range, including patients in their 80s,” he says. “People are living healthy longer, and many adults who never had the chance to do orthodontics as children see this as a way to improve health, vitality, and aesthetics.”

Just as our bodies changes over time, so do our pearly whites, adds Selnes, who wore aligners in his 30s.

“As we age, teeth get more crowded – when and how much is completely random, but it happens, because as the face changes, shrinks, and sags, you’ve got movement of the teeth – and it’s normal,” explains Dr. Selnes.

Philippson notes that adult jawbones are constantly being remodeled and laid down in a different position. “Because the top and bottom jaws are connected by soft tissue, not hard tissue, if one jaw was to grow or change its position a little bit differently than the other, you’re putting pressure on the teeth, allowing them to move.”

Beyond the ‘tin grin,’ orthodontic options to gently and gradually move your jaw or teeth into position, include:

•Stainless steel braces. Affordable and efficient, these braces are glued to the front of teeth and attached with wires.

•Ceramic braces. Nearly translucent, these braces are similar in colour to your teeth, but are not quite as durable as metal.

•Lingual braces. Because they are installed onto the insides of your teeth, they are practically invisible, but sometimes cause tongue discomfort and speech issues.

•Clear aligners. Hugely popular with adults who don’t want anyone to know they’re wearing braces, these made-to-measure clear acrylic trays slide over your teeth and are removed for meals and brushing. Aligners must be changed every two weeks.

What to expect when you commit to orthodontics

  • Adults usually wear braces for 12 to 26 months, says Selnes. Most patients need their orthodontic appliances adjusted every four to six weeks.
  • A permanent retainer will be installed when treatment ends, to keep teeth in place.
  • Costs vary wildly from province to province, but expect to pay between $6,000-12,000. Many health insurance plans cover between 50-80 per cent of the cost, and the rest can be claimed on your income tax return.
  • Brushing and flossing will take longer, so you have to be vigilant.
  • Watch out for hard, crunchy, or sticky foods, says Selnes. “When wearing aligners, don’t drink liquids that have sugar in them, because they hold liquids against the teeth and can cause decay.”