Wellness: Brace Yourself

When Merry Philler’s 13-year-old son, Zach, got braces, she started thinking about her own slightly imperfect smile. “Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw my snaggletooth,” says the 43-year-old stay-at-home mom of four. A twisted bottom tooth that “jutted out” bothered her too. Philler asked Zach’s orthodontist about the prospect of getting braces for herself.

Soon enough, she was sporting her own full set of metal “railroad tracks,” not only to straighten a wayward incisor and a crooked bottom tooth but to correct an overbite that she didn’t even know about until the orthodontist mentioned it. 

The decision was so impulsive that the braces were a surprise even to Philler’s husband, especially since her teeth looked just fine to him. Her friends echoed the sentiment. But Philler knew better. And since she was taking her son regularly to the orthodontist anyway, she figured she might as well get in on the action, booking their appointments together.

Philler is far from alone in her grown-up quest for a killer smile. Braces aren’t just for kids. According to the American Association of Orthodontists, adults now make up one in five orthodontic patients.

“In my practice, we see moms, dads and children in treatment at the same time. There’s even one family in which grandma got braces, too,” says Jeffrey Kozlowski, DDS, an orthodontist with practices in New London and East Lyme, Conn. The fact is, healthy teeth can be moved at any age. It’s never too late to benefit from orthodontic treatment. And since you may be headed to the orthodontist anyway for your child’s (or your grandchild’s) treatment, you might as well make the most of it. Tooth Truths

One of the main selling points for braces for adults, though, is that orthodontic work isn’t what it used to be. Treatment that might have spanned two to three years in the past, as when you were a kid, now typically takes only 15 to 18 months.

Orthodontic management is often easier and more comfortable, too. When there is overcrowding with narrow dental arches, for example, “we don’t extract as many teeth as we used to,” Dr. Kozlowski says. The idea is to use technology to correct overcrowding and preserve a broad, 12-tooth smile, in which teeth can be seen from one corner of the mouth to the other. 

Today’s general orthodontic philosophy is that a full, toothy smile is not only more attractive, it helps keep your face looking more youthful over time. A restructured smile can help prevent cheeks from caving in and keep dark triangles from forming within the corners of the mouth, typical hallmarks of aging. “Broad smiles help support the soft tissue of the facial structure,” Dr. Kozlowski says, a phenomenon known as “the brace lift.” Braces can also fix bite problems so teeth and jaws align better. “With braces, we want to improve the aesthetics and the function,” he says.  High-Tech Help

Merry Philler opted for traditional metal braces that require tightening every three to four weeks. Admittedly, the braces hurt in the beginning. With the pain and the fact that food kept getting stuck in her braces, “I couldn’t eat anything,” she says. Dining in front of others at parties? Forget it. Within a month, Philler lost 20 pounds, which she considers a bonus. “It was like having your mouth wired shut,” she says.

Philler almost asked her orthodontist to take off her braces. Enough! But she endured. Six months later, eating with braces is a breeze and Philler is worried about regaining the pre-braces weight. Still, her “railroad tracks” have become second nature. 

If you don’t feel like going through all that, here’s good news: you don’t have to. There are high-tech options that can make having braces more tolerable. The Damon System, for example, combines tieless brackets and light titanium arch wires to move teeth faster with less pain. The arch wires place constant force on teeth over the intervals between orthodontic appointments, which are typically every 10 weeks. “With the Damon System, we don’t do the traditional tightening that makes teeth hurt,” Dr. Kozlowski says. Instead, at each appointment, light titanium wires are replaced with slightly stronger wires to apply incremental pressure, gently ushering teeth toward the goal. (Damon System braces are available in metal and clear. To find a Damon System dentist near you and for more information, visit http://damonbraces.com.) 

Insignia Advanced Smile Design, which can be used in conjunction with the Damon System and other treatment options, is another orthodontic advancement that can help reduce treatment time. The technology uses 3D software to create computerized representations of teeth and a preview of the end result. From that blueprint, orthodontists can create a personalized treatment plan portioned to a patient’s facial features. (To find a certified Insignia orthodontist, who has undergone additional training, visit www.insigniasmile.com.)

No matter what type of braces you choose, be vigilant about oral hygiene by brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a regular toothbrush to keep decay at bay. If you find brushing isn’t de-gunking your braces, try an electric toothbrush or a Waterpik. Floss daily, too.e_SFlbThe Tab for a Winning Smile

The cost of getting full upper and lower braces is $5,000 to $7,000, according to the American Association of Orthodontists. The expense can vary widely according to the amount of work needed, where you live and the orthodontist’s expertise. If you want clear/invisible braces, there may be an upcharge of $300 to $400. Orthodontics is covered by many insurance plans, but not typically 100 percent. Some insurance plans cover orthodontics only if you’re under 21, so be sure to check your policy.

When it’s all over and your braces are off, you’ll not only have a more attractive smile but a healthier one. People with crowding or bite issues tend to have more periodontal problems, which can translate to higher dental bills. Braces can pay off. “Straight teeth are easier to keep clean,” Dr.Kozlowski says.•

Author: Sandra Gordon

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