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The nitty-gritty, need-to-know details of orthodontic care for adults.

By Jill Case, Photo by Ettie Kim

Often seen as a key element of an awkward phase of life for teenagers, braces are becoming more popular among adults. Dr. Grace Kim, an orthodontist and partner at Kunik Orthodontics in Austin, spoke with Austin Woman about the reasons why adults are choosing to get orthodontic treatment. In her practice, about 60 to 65 percent of patients are adults. It turns out that adults are choosing orthodontic treatment for a variety of reasons:

  • Appearance. Many adults either did not have the opportunity to have orthodontics when they were younger, or may have had braces but experienced changes in their teeth as they aged. This is not unusual, according to Kim. “As we age, our teeth start to get a bit more crowded,” she says. This is called mesial drift, and occurs when the teeth move closer to the middle of the face, crowding each other.
  • Bone-loss prevention. Oral bone loss occurs as we age, beginning in the early 30s and accelerating in the 50s and 60s. “We try to stop that from happening with orthodontic treatment when people are in their 30s and 40s,” Kim says. “For people in their 50s and beyond, we try to make corrections to prevent further bone loss from occurring.”
  • Better dental health. When teeth are crooked or crowded, it can make it difficult to maintain good dental hygiene, which can lead to more tooth decay, gum disease and worn enamel.

Kim emphasizes there is no age limit for orthodontics.

“We actually have patients in their 80s that are getting treatment,” she says. “You’re never too old to get your teeth straightened and put them in a good and healthy position for the future.”

Three Reasons Not to Choose DIY Orthodontics

You’ve probably seen the ads on the internet for very inexpensive braces, and you may have heard anecdotal information from a friend or family member who had a great experience with them, but Dr. Grace Kim wants readers to know there are three important things to think about before going the DIY route when it comes to orthodontics care.

  1. You could experience tooth loss or other problems.

When you pursue DIY orthodontics, you don’t know what kind of care or monitoring you will receive, if any at all.

“There is a limit to how far you can move your teeth. The teeth can be pushed out of the periodontium—the tissues that support and surround the teeth, keeping them in place within the bone structure—causing tooth loss,” Kim says.

In addition, some patients experience root resorption, or shortening of the roots, when they undergo treatment, and it’s important patients who experience a severe reaction receive immediate diagnosis and treatment of the problem. Adult patients may also experience problems with periodontitis, or gum disease.

  1. Your bite could be adversely affected. 

Orthodontists receive two to three additional years of training after dental school in the field of orthodontics, giving them the necessary training to handle all types of malocclusions, or bite problems.

“If you have very crowded teeth but you don’t have an overbite, as the DIY orthodontics unravel the crowding, they may actually cause an open bite or bite issue,” Kim says.

An open bite means the upper and lower teeth don’t make proper contact with each other when the jaws are closed. You may end up with straight teeth, but also with a new malocclusion that can cause serious dental-health issues.

  1. It may end up costing you more than traditional orthodontics.

If you experience problems caused by DIY orthodontics, it could be very costly. For example, if you experience tooth loss, you would need expensive dental implants to replace your teeth. Periodontal issues may require specialized periodontal treatment, and you would still need to see an orthodontist to properly correct your teeth and your bite.

Types of Orthodontics for Adults

Orthodontic treatment is a very individual process, with costs ranging from $2,500 to $9,000, with the average treatment at Kunik Orthodontics, for example, ranging between $5,000 and $6,000.

Option 1: Invisalign. These invisible orthodontics have several benefits. They’re clear, removable, comfortable, require fewer visits to the orthodontist and make teeth easier to clean. Dr. Grace Kim calls them “the gold standard in orthodontics.”

Option 2: Braces with wires and brackets. These braces can move teeth more quickly, and in some situations, may be required to begin treatment. Often, they can be replaced with Invisalign later in the treatment. There are three types of these braces that use brackets and wires:

  • metal: made from stainless steel
  • ceramic: made from composite or porcelain to be less visible
  • lingual: placed on the back or tongue side of the teeth to be more hidden.
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