Frequently Asked Questions: Adult Orthodontic Patients

Figure 1 An example of how much orthodontic treatment can improve your face. These pictures were published, by Dr David Sarver, DMD MS, in the American Journal Of Orthodontics, 110(1996) 128. © 1996, the American Association of Orthodontists, with permission

Figure 1
Do Adults Really Get Braces?

Absolutely. Many people did not get braces when they were young. Either their parents could not afford braces, or their teeth could not be straightened with the techniques of 40 years ago. Now they have problems with their teeth and gums, they get indigestion all the time or they are just unhappy with their smile. They can afford braces now, and want to do something for themselves so they get braces.

Other people did have orthodontic treatment when they were young, but they did not wear their retainers until they stopped growing (you should wear your retainer until you are 24). The result is that their teeth are now a little bit crooked. Now they are unhappy with their smile so they get braces too.

Presently as much as 1/4 of the orthodontic treatment being done is being done on adult patients. It is quite a change from 20 years ago when orthodontists were only treating children.

How much does adult orthodontic treatment cost?

hmm. It matters how much work the orthodontist has to do and where you live. If you live in a rural area, with low rents and few malpractice lawyers, standard orthodontic treatment can be obtained for under $3,000. It will cost more if there are complications. If you live in an expensive city with many malpractice lawyers, the costs can be significantly higher. Generally the orthodontist will want a substantial down payment to cover the orthodontists costs of starting up a new case. Then the orthodontist will ask you to make payments every time you come in for a checkup or to have your braces tightened.

For further information about how much braces cost and how to pay for them click here

Are there any age limits?

No, there are no age limits! Orthodontic treatment goes slower when you are older, and it feels different. Still, people as old as 90 are getting braces. People who live to 90 know how important it is to take care of themselves, and orthodontic treatment is part of it.

Why Do Adults Get Braces?

Most adults get orthodontic treatment because they realize that taking care of your smile is part of taking care of yourself.

Look at your smile. Your smile is the most important feature on your face. Look in the mirror. Are you happy with your smile now? Does your smile look as good as it did when you were younger? What do you think about someone who has a pleasing smile. Do you find them attractive? What do you think about someone who has an awful smile. Do they look old and haggard? Do you want to look old an haggard? Orthodontic treatment can keep your smile from looking old and haggard. At the end of orthodontic treatment, people’s smiles end up looking fabulous. Wouldn’t it be great if you looked fabulous.

Are There Health Advantages To Adult Orthodontic Treatment?

Yes. When your teeth are crooked, they are harder to clean and will wear unevenly. Your gums can get inflamed and your teeth hurt. Eventually, you will lose your teeth. Orthodontic treatment can inhibit gum problems and prevent tooth loss.

Also, remember that chewing is the first part of digestion. If you do not chew your food properly, the rest of you digestive system will have to work harder. The harder you digestive system works, the faster it ages. Orthodontic treatment can prevent premature aging of your digestive system.

How is adult orthodontic treatment different than teenage orthodontic treatment?

It is basically the same, with a few minor differences.

One difference is that the treatment takes longer. As you get older, you heal more slowly. As a result, the orthodontist needs to be more gentle with his treatment. The orthodontist can still move your teeth, but the orthodontist needs to move your teeth more slowly to let your mouth heal between tightening appointments.

The other difference is that it is harder to enlarge your mouth to get all of your teeth to fit. In the FAQ for teenage orthodontic patients(tm), we noted that when you are growing, your jaw is like clay; if your mouth is too small for your teeth, the orthodontist can stretch your mouth so everything fits. Well, once you stop growing, your jaw hardens; it is difficult for an orthodontist to stretch your jaw. Some people elect to have their jaw enlarged surgically. However, most adults decide to have their teeth straightened, but not get their jaw enlarged.

That changes the treatment somewhat because the orthodontist may have to remove some teeth to make everything fit while the orthodontist could have stretched your jaw if you had come in for treatment when you were a teenager. Nevertheless, orthodontic treatment still works. It just goes slower and may be slightly more painful when you are older, because the orthodontist cannot stretch your jaw and teeth need to be pulled.

What does adult orthodontic treatment feel like?

Well, the beginning part of the treatment is harder for adult patients than for teenagers. However, after treatment gets started, things are the same whether you are a teenager or an adult.

Recall that some adults need to have teeth pulled, or surgery to expand their jaw. Well, pulling teeth is not fun. Neither is surgery. Still, the oral surgeon uses an anesthetic when he pulls your teeth, and gives you pills for the pain. Usually the pain is gone after about 48 hours, and then you are home free.

The orthodontist then puts in your braces. You mouth will be tender for about a week, but then the tenderness should go away, and you will hardly notice your braces except when they are tightened.

Most adults say that after they start orthodontic treatment, their teeth feel like their teeth have come loose. When a teenager gets braces, the orthodontist is usually moving teeth that have come in fairly recently. The result is that the teeth are easy to move. As you get older, your teeth get anchored to your jaw with little filaments. The orthodontist needs to loosen those filaments before your teeth will move. As a result, your teeth feel loose. Still the loose feeling is nothing to worry about. The filaments will tighten again once your orthodontic treatment is done.

Other than that, orthodontic treatment will feel the same whether you get treatment when you are in your teens, or whether you get treatment when you are an adult. Your mouth will be tender for a week after your braces are first put on, and there will be some pain when your braces are tightened. However, the pain is manageable; and the results will make you look fantastic.

Will I be stuck with a “metal mouth” look when I have braces?

Definitely not. Braces have changed a lot in the last 20 years and you do not have to get a metal mouth when you get braces.