Am I too old for orthodontic treatment?

Let me tell you a story. About a year ago a white-haired adult woman came to our office for an orthodontic consultation. She was referred by a local dentist who happened to ask her, “Is there anything you would like to see different about your smile?” When I walked in the consultation room to meet her, I could barely introduce myself before she immediately said, “I know what you’re thinking.” I thought to myself, “You do?” She continued, “I could live until I’m 105 or I could die tomorrow, but I put my two adult children through orthodontic treatment as teenagers and I’ve had this overbite my whole life and I don’t want to look like this any more.” “Okay,” I thought. “Let’s chat.”

Adults comprise 40% of the new patients we see. Their orthodontic treatment ranges from very mild single tooth alignment issues to very complex orthodontic treatment in preparation for future implants and crowns. There are numerous benefits to teeth that are aligned and in a healthy biting position, including easier cleaning, less adverse wear, increased longevity, and of course better looking teeth.

As adults are living longer and desire a better quality of life they are looking toward orthodontic treatment to enhance what mother nature has provided. The best timing for orthodontic treatment is not time or chronological age related – it is when that individual is ready to help plan their treatment with the goal of obtaining the best result. This could be at age 13 or age 80. Often adults are our best patients because they are serious about their goals and do what’s necessary to obtain them.

Goals for adult orthodontic treatment may be different than for children. When you are young and growing, orthodontists have the ability to intercept deviant jaw growth to normalize their teeth and bite. As an adult your genetically predetermined growth has already expressed itself. A more realistic goal for adult orthodontic treatment is to straighten the teeth and improve the bite discrepancy rather than attempt to make the bite perfect.

There are many treatment options available today for adults. In addition to traditional metal braces, there are clear braces, Invisalign (a series of clear aligners to move the teeth), and braces glued on the inside of the teeth. You may be a candidate for one or more of these orthodontic treatment options depending upon the severity of your alignment, bite discrepancy, and your treatment goals.

The challenges of holding the teeth in the new aligned position with an improved bite relationship are the same for adolescents and adults. All age groups need retainers to hold the teeth in the new position for life. Wow – that sounds daunting! However, most adults who are motivated about their brushing and flossing are great candidates for permanent retainers – wires glued on the back side of the front teeth that are the most likely to move back toward the original position. Removable retainers are typically just worn at night while sleeping.

If you have ever thought about improving your smile, the health of your teeth, and perhaps your self-confidence, consult your local orthodontist. I have never spoken to an adult patient who has regretted having orthodontic treatment. Most adult patients wish they had done it a lot sooner and are highly motivated to get the best result possible.

About the woman at the beginning of my article – her orthodontic treatment is progressing fabulously and her diligent work with brushing and flossing during orthodontic treatment along with her great attitude will ensure she gets a great result. We’re already planning a big party when she gets her braces off. Many adult patients are concerned that they will be the only one “their age” in our office. I smile under my mask when she’s in the office as she quizzes the kids and checks in on the treatment of other adults. At a youthful 73, she still wears the crown of the oldest patient in our office.