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What to expect if you need braces in adulthood

We talk to Dr Jason Su, a Singapore Dental Council (SDC) accredited orthodontic (braces) specialist working at Q & M Dental Group, to find out more about getting braces as an adult.

Is there an age limit for braces?
Braces are not limited to schoolchildren. They can be worn as long as your gums and bone around the teeth are healthy – I have patients in their 70s receiving orthodontic treatment. People are more aware of their dental health and are keeping their teeth much longer than they used to. The desire to smile and eat well is innate, it’s no surprise that more adults are now actively seeking treatment to straighten their teeth and correct their ‘bite’.

adult braces, orthodontist, dentist

How are adult braces different?
Braces treatment is generally more complicated in adults. Teenagers usually have a full complement of permanent teeth with little prior dental work. Adults, however, may have other underlying dental problems and missing teeth which affect the orthodontic treatment plan.

Also, jaw growth is already complete in adults so it cannot be utilised during orthodontic treatment. Managing adult cases requires experience and good communication is needed to understand their concerns. You need to paint a realistic picture of what to expect during and after the treatment.

As bone remodelling is slower in adults compared to younger patients, teeth generally move more slowly and the treatment time is slightly longer.

Aside from cosmetic reasons, why might an adult need braces?
There are many reasons for adults to seek treatment. It may be as simple as an orthodontic relapse – the patient may have had braces when he or she was younger but did not continue to wear their retainers so the correction wasn’t permanent. Braces re-treatment is usually straightforward and doesn’t take very long.

There might also be a more complex underlying dental issue. Patients who suffer from severe gum disease may observe their teeth drifting apart. Even when the gum disease has been stabilised after treatment by a gum specialist or general dentist, the teeth are now positioned in an unsightly, flared position. Orthodontic treatment to bring the teeth back into alignment can commence once the periodontal disease is under control.

For patients seeking tooth replacement using implants or bridges, the misalignment of the teeth adjacent to the empty socket may mean that it is impossible to restore the space. A short period of braces treatment can reposition the adjacent teeth, allowing the restorative dentist to place the implant or bridge in an ideal position.

These are just a few of many situations. 

adult braces, orthodontist, dentist

Some adults might be self-conscious wearing metal braces. What about the invisible alternatives?
The two common ‘invisible’ alternatives are ceramic braces and clear aligners. Ceramic braces work similarly to metal braces but are much less visible. The brackets are attached to the teeth and will not be removed until treatment is completed.

Clear aligners, like Invisalign, work differently. The aligners push the teeth from their original position to the next. The patient then upgrades to the next set of aligners which nudges the teeth to another new position. It takes many sets of aligners to correct the malocclusion. Patients can remove the aligners to eat and brush, but should follow the recommended hours of wear for them to be effective. The orthodontist will still review the patient at intervals to ensure that the teeth are tracking with the aligners.

Are retainers always necessary?
Yes! Retainers are a necessity after braces treatment, regardless of age. The hours of wear reduces over time as the teeth stabilise in their new position. Retainer wear becomes a habit for patients and ensures teeth remain well aligned over the years to come.

Remember, it’s important to seek advice from an accredited orthodontic dental specialist before commencing braces treatment.

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