It was painfully obvious I needed braces as a child from the moment my two front teeth broke through with about half a centimeter of space in between them. But growing up in a single parent home, this was just not an option. So I just watched all of my friends get their braces and then have them removed with beautiful results.
Flash forward X years. I’m 26 now with a fabulous job. After a promotion, my salary increased by $10,000 but my bills remained the same. Perfect opportunity to get my teeth fixed.
So I sat down at my computer to search for an orthodontist. I’m not going to lie: part of my decision was based on superficial reasons. Which brings me to my first tip. 1) Choose an orthodontist you will like. My orthodontist had to have a website. In this day and age, most prosperous business have one, so why not my provider? My orthodontist had to be friendly and have a friendly staff. The office needed to be convenient to either home or work. I like to be fully involved in my treatment, so he or she needed to be open to my questions and willing to educate me. And lastly (here’s the superficial part), my orthodontist had to have nice teeth. I visited three and ended up going with the third one. I am very happy with my decision.
“What was I thinking?” That was the thought that was running through my head as I sat in the chair at my first visit. The orthodontist examined my teeth and determined that I did, indeed, have spacing issues. She also discovered that I had a tongue thrust (Sex and the City, much?) but it could be easily corrected with a tongue thrust spike (…). I arranged to come in later that week for my records visit. I had panoramic x-rays done and a mould taken of my teeth. I could have started my treatment that day, but I was waiting for the new benefit year to begin for health savings plan purposes.
I’m lucky in that I selected an orthodontist that addresses the special needs of their adult patients. The assistant (hygienist?) who has been working with me had braces as an adult, too, so we were able to have a real discussion about my options. So tip #2) Try to find a place that recognizes the special needs of adults with braces. I have a friend a little older than me, and our experiences have been like night and day. I think it really makes a difference.
About 90% of the adults at the office I visit have the clear, ceramic braces. I chose traditional stainless steel for a multitude of reasons, the number one being that I am a hopeless coffee addict, and the clear ligatures would stain immediately. Also, the ceramic have a higher incidence of chipping the teeth when they are removed. Also, the stainless steel are stronger, meaning they will work faster. Adults typically take much longer than teenagers anyway; why extend my treatment any longer than I have to? Besides, it’s not like they’re completely invisible, and they’d only be on the top teeth! Might as well bite the bullet and save a few books and get the stainless steel. In any case, #3) Select the type of braces based on your needs, not on what people with think. There may be a clinical justification for selecting a particular type. Also, my friend with the braces has ceramic. People notice hers just as much as they notice mine. We did an actual test.
My next visit, I had my spacers put in. Spacers are little rubber bands that they put on each side of your molars to create space for the insertion of the metal bands. It didn’t hurt having them put in, but by day three…yowie! You wouldn’t think that these little innocuous rubber bands could cause so much pain, but they did. Some say that this is the most painful part of the process.
My spacers stayed in two weeks. Then I went back to have my metal bands placed and a second mould done. Placement of the bands was easy. They try different sizes on and press them to fit your teeth. Then they cement them on. No pain at all. The second mould was to be used to set up my brackets. My orthodontist uses the indirect method for applying brackets. The mould was used to create a model of my teeth. Brackets were placed on the model and ten applied to trays which would be used to apply the brackets perfectly to my teeth.
The big day occurred a week after the bands were placed. They inserted the most unusual contraption that both pulled my cheeks, lips, and tongue away from my teeth and provided a continuous stream of air to keep the teeth dry. It was most uncomfortable and the air dried my lips. So #4) Put on a thick coat of Chapstick, or maybe something goopier, like Carmex or Vaseline. Your lips will thank you.
My trays were inserted in two sections on the bottom and three on top. Each had to be held in place for two minutes. So that’s it, ten minutes for application. In theory, that is. When they pulled off the trays, two brackets came off and had to be applied directly. That wasn’t so bad. The assistant painted on the adhesive, the orthodontist placed the bracket, and the assistant dried it with a UV light.
Once my brackets were placed, I got to brush my teeth before my ligatures (the colorful bands) and wire were applied. Since I work for the government, I went with red and blue for a patriotic theme. (My teeth were the white.) And that was it! We had a brief education session, which the hygienist concluded with, a bit ominously,” If you haven’t eaten dinner, you’d better hurry up and eat something. And enjoy it…” She handed me a goody bag and the model of my teeth (which I painted white and now sits on a shelf in my living room and has become something of a conversation piece).
My teeth were fine the first evening. They were fine when I got up the next morning. But let me tell you, when I bit into my breakfast banana, I though my eyes would fly out of my head. It hurt so bad! Which brings me to tip #5)The day before you get them, stock up on yogurt, soups, and soft foods. No one wants to shop when they are in immense pain. The pain let up after a week, and I was able to chew. After the second week, I was able to bite comfortably. There was some pain after adjustments, but it was never again as bad as the first time.
So in closing, five things to think about as you begin your journey as an adult with braces:
1) Choose an orthodontist you will like.
2) Try to find a place that recognizes the special needs of adults with braces.
3) Select the type of braces based on your needs, not on what people with think.
4) Put on a thick coat of Chapstick, or maybe something goopier, like Carmex or Vaseline.
5) The day before you get them, stock up on yogurt, soups, and soft foods.
Adults typically have longer treatment times. I’ve got at least another year with braces and who knows how long with retainers. Stay tuned as I continue my journey to a gorgeous smile!