The Hidden Health Benefits of Adult Braces
More than one million people in the United States and Canada have gotten braces as adults -- and it’s not just the idea of a better-looking smile that motivated them. In fact, some serious oral health concerns that come with age often require braces, says Dr. Robert Bray, president of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). As you get older, your teeth shift, and crowded teeth can make it not only uncomfortable to chew but also difficult to floss, explains Bray. And with less-than-stellar oral care and hygiene, you increase your risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease.
Luckily, today’s braces are more tailored to adults: They’re faster-acting and more discreet, and various options are available to match your preferences. Here is the lowdown on the four main types you can choose from:
1. Metal Braces
Best if: You’re on a budget.
Metal brackets are bonded to each tooth and connected with spring wires and rubber bands. Thanks to advances in technology, metal braces of today use your body heat to help them apply constant pressure, making straightening faster. What’s more, “these are the most inexpensive option, but they’re much smaller than in decades past, so they’re not as noticeable,” says Dr. Raymond George, past president of the AAO.
You need to brush after every meal to prevent food from getting stuck in crevices and damaging the tooth enamel; flossing can take about 20 minutes.
Cost : $3,500 to $6,000
2. Ceramic Braces
Best if: You want a more subtle smile-fixer.
These work like metal braces but are less noticeable, thanks to their clear ceramic material. The brackets resist stains well, and even the wires can be stainless steel or coated with Teflon for greater invisibility.
“The tiny rubber bands that hold the wire to the brackets can stain and have to be changed at some point,” says Bray. Ceramics also require the same brushing and flossing routine as metal braces do and can take longer to get used to because each bracket is bulkier.
Cost: $4,000 to $6,500
3. Lingual Braces
Best if: You want to keep your braces a secret.
Completely unseen by others, lingual braces are metal braces attached to the tongue side of your teeth.
They’re trickier to install -- thus more expensive -- because the backsides of your teeth are less even than the front, so each bracket has to be customized. “They’re [also] harder to clean, more difficult for the dentist to make adjustments, the office visits are longer, and you need more visits,” says George. Plus, they may feel uncomfortable at first until your tongue adjusts to the change, adds Bray.
Cost: $8,000 to $10,000
4. Invisible Braces
Best if: Your teeth aren’t extremely crooked.
This system of clear aligners uses a sheer mouth guard-like device that fits over your teeth and subtly pushes them in the right direction. The guard is thin and nearly invisible.
You get a series of aligners, which you have to change every couple of weeks as your teeth move. You also “have to take it out to eat and brush your teeth, and put it back in again,” says George. If your teeth are very crooked, these won’t work for you well at all.
Cost: $3,500 to $6,000
Most of the time, you must pay in full for orthodontics, but some insurance plans cover the cost of braces, so be sure to check with your insurance company before you start. And no matter which route you go, be sure to choose an orthodontist who has worked with adults too, not just kids.
Laurie Tarkan specializes in health reporting and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and national magazines such as Prevention, Health, Family Circle and Fit Pregnancy.
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