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 Are Adult Braces the New Botox?

Why dealing with a mouthful of metal was totally worth it.

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Vincent Kilbride
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A little over a year ago I did something to improve my appearance that I had wanted to do for a very long time. It was a process — a lengthy, expensive and, dare I say, painful process that took 15 months to complete.

At the age of 50, I got braces. Metal braces. On my teeth, top to bottom, front to back. As a kid, I didn’t need them, but later, as an adult, my bottom teeth grew crooked and a few on the top made me feel self-conscious when I smiled. For years, my late husband and a multitude of friends convinced me that I was the only one who noticed, but my feelings of insecurity about my imperfect smile lingered.

Then, during the pandemic, I found myself on video calls, all the time, like the rest of the world. My memoir had just come out, and my book tour was now online. So were social gatherings. At each meeting, I noticed the subtle grays in my hair and the wrinkles around my eyes. But it was the sight of my teeth that made me cringe most. I decided it was finally time to do something about it.

According to the American Association of Orthodontists, adults are a fast-rising population with one in four of us seeking orthodontic treatment. While the percentage of those over 50 is harder to determine, the trend of older adults searching for everything from a nicer smile to restorative dental work doesn’t seem to be slowing down. “I see more and more patients, middle-aged and older, getting braces,” says Merilynn Yamada, an orthodontist in Los Angeles.

Yamada says many adults like the idea of Invisalign, a clear, removable, teeth-straightening device less noticeable than flashy metal braces. Invisalign is easy to remove for special occasions, and the wearer can eat and drink without worrying about busting a bracket or wire.

But some orthodontists like it to be worn for up to 22 hours a day, every single day, for the duration of treatment, which runs 12 to 18 months on average. That requires a lot of discipline at any age.

At my initial consultation, I was told that metal braces would give my orthodontist more control and straighten my teeth faster. Even with the cost of around $6,000 and my insurance not covering any of it, I didn’t hesitate. Metal was for me.

“A lot of people come in for aesthetics, but a lot of adults come in to make sure that their teeth will last,” adds Yamada. “A beautiful smile is better than jewelry because jewelry doesn’t hide crooked teeth.”

In the beginning, I was sort of amused by the whole thing. I’d flash my smile to be cute or funny as if to say, “Yup, that’s right, I’m a middle-aged woman with a mouth full of metal.”

But as the weeks marched on, each orthodontist appointment brought anxiety. It was painful to adjust the brackets, change the wires and figure out how to attach rubber bands — yes, rubber bands! And as if aching teeth and dry lips weren’t enough, the other side effect of getting braces was that I often felt self-conscious.

Here I was, a confident woman, nervous to meet new business acquaintances, my boyfriend’s friends, even neighbors I hadn’t seen since COVID. I was afraid that I’d be judged, and I suddenly felt uncomfortable about my obvious quest for self-improvement. My adult braces had me feeling like an awkward teenager — or rather, an awkward premenopausal, middle-aged woman.

Bestselling author Rochelle B. Weinstein, 52, chose to get Invisalign to correct one nagging, crooked tooth. “I didn’t care what others thought,” she said. “I was doing something for me. But nothing makes you more self-conscious than sitting in the crowded orthodontist's office while scores of prepubescents roll in with their backpacks, school uniforms and PE sweats.”

While friends and I were commiserating over night sweats, vaginal dryness and hormonal acne, I was also able to vent with my best friend’s 13-year-old son. He, too, had braces, and we would discuss the foods we missed eating, like popcorn and chocolate caramels.

We compared the size of the wires that we were each fitted with (thicker meant you were close to the end!), and how much longer we each had to go (he finished months before me). The fact that I knew they’d be coming off eventually is what kept me motivated, even though I often felt like I was finishing a self-imposed prison sentence.

I wore the metal braces for 16 months, and I’m now on month four of the one year that I need to wear Invisalign for maintenance.

In the end, I’m so glad I did it! I look better, I feel better and my new smile is, by far, my favorite accessory.

Have you ever had braces? Let us know in the comments below.

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