Orthodontics isn't just for the young. Australian adults of all ages are now choosing to straighten their smiles, especially following the development of more discreet and comfortable treatments such as hidden braces and clear aligners.
If you want to straighten crooked, crowded or protruding teeth or to fix other orthodontic issues, your dentist can examine your teeth and jaws and tell you what your options are. They will also make sure you understand what's involved and what results you can expect from adult orthodontics.
Adult braces are a growing trend
Braces have always been an option for adults, but there has been a notable increase in adults choosing to straighten their teeth in recent years, and not just in their 20s and 30s. According to Orthodontics Australia, 62% of Australian adults say they would consider orthodontic treatment.
There are a few reasons behind the growing popularity of orthodontics for adults of all ages. One is the fact that people are keeping their teeth for longer than in the past, due to improved awareness of good oral hygiene and water fluoridation helping to reduce tooth decay.
Embarrassment and stigma around braces have also reduced with the developments in discreet braces and alternatives that are less noticeable in the mouth and have less impact on lifestyle. This has reduced further as treatments have become more common and widely known.
Why do adults choose braces?
Whether you missed out on braces earlier in life or your teeth have started to shift with age, the need for orthodontics doesn't always end with the teen years. Common reasons why adults choose braces are:
Braces can straighten crooked teeth or a misaligned bite and close gaps, helping to balance your smile. Even if you didn't need braces when you were younger, natural ageing, tooth loss and general wear and tear can affect the appearance of teeth.
Misaligned teeth may be harder to clean, increasing your risk of developing oral health problems. They may also impact on eating, speech or breathing and can contribute to problems such as teeth grinding, jaw disorders and obstructive sleep apnoea.
Orthodontic problems can have an impact beyond the teeth. Braces can help to prevent complications such as gum disease and receding gums from poor oral hygiene as well as tooth wear, tooth loss and digestive issues from eating difficulties.
What issues can affect adult orthodontics?
There is no upper age limit to braces, but age can affect how braces work and how effective they can be. Reasons for this include:
Teeth and jaw mobility
Braces are most commonly recommended in adolescence, when the teeth and jaws are still growing. This makes them easier to move and control for more predictable outcomes.
Adults whose teeth and jaws are no longer growing can still benefit from braces, but the treatment can take longer and some types of corrections may be harder to achieve.
Poor oral health
Your results from braces may be affected by oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease. These can interrupt the treatment as your dentist treats the disease.
Age is a risk factor for dental disease. According to the latest National Study of Adult Oral Health 2017–18, the average number of teeth affected by decay increased from 4.1 in 15–34 year olds to 24.4 in people aged 75 and older. The percentage of adults with moderate to severe gum disease increased from 12% to 69% across the same age range.
The jaw bone can deteriorate and lose mass with age, especially if you're missing some teeth. This means there can be less support for teeth movement from braces.
Medication for osteoporosis and other conditions that affect the bones and joints may also restrict teeth movements.
Past dental work
A history of fillings, crowns or other dental restorations fitted over teeth can be a challenge for braces, though an experienced dentist or orthodontist will take these into account when they plan your treatment.
What results can you expect?
Adult orthodontics can have its challenges, but braces and other treatments still have a high success rate when they are provided by a suitably qualified professional and you follow their instructions.
In fact, some treatments such as removable aligners that rely on patient compliance may have a higher success rate in mature patients who are more disciplined. Adult patients may also be more willing to follow their dentist's oral hygiene advice to minimise the risks.
Your dentist will explain what treatments involve and what results you can expect based on your goals during your orthodontic consultation. They may also be able to show you a computer-generated preview of what your straighter smile could look like to help you set realistic expectations.
Your consultation is also your chance to ask questions about treatment timelines, how much braces cost and any other information you may need to help you make a fully informed decision.
If you choose to have treatment, your dentist will schedule regular check-ups so they can check your treatment is going according to plan, make any adjustments needed and help you with any problems.
What types of braces are suitable for adults?
If your ideas of braces come from long in the past, you might be surprised by how small and unobtrusive modern braces can be. If you had braces as a teenager, you will likely find that fitting and wearing braces have become more comfortable as technology has improved.
Whether you only need to move a single tooth or all of your upper and/or lower teeth, your dentist will explain all of the brace options available, as well as the alternatives to braces.
The strongest type of braces, metal braces are generally recommended for correcting more severe orthodontic needs. The brackets and wires are visible, but are more streamlined and take up less space than on braces of the past.
Ceramic braces are a more discreet alternative to metal braces. The brackets and wires may be clear or matched to your natural tooth shade to make them less visible. However, as ceramic braces are less strong than metal, they may not be suitable for more serious corrections or they may take longer.
Another option for some corrections may be lingual braces. These are also made of metal, but attached on the inside (back) of teeth where they can't be seen. These braces have limitations though, and they can sometimes affect speech as the tongue has to adjust.
What are the alternatives to braces?
Braces aren't the only option for straightening teeth. Depending on your needs, your dentist or orthodontist may discuss alternatives such as removable aligners or cosmetic treatments for minor straightening.
Invisalign clear aligners are a popular alternative to braces for adults. The treatment uses a series of clear plastic aligners that fit comfortably over the teeth and are replaced every few weeks with a new set. Each set of aligners is slightly different to guide the teeth into their new position.
Invisalign was developed specifically for adults and older teenagers who want to straighten their teeth without braces. They may be an option for most mild to moderate orthodontic issues, but more severe cases may require braces.
As well as being very discreet, the aligners can also be removed when you eat, brush and floss your teeth, avoiding some of the issues with braces. However, they should be worn for at least 22 hours a day for the treatment to work as intended.
If your teeth are only slightly misaligned and you want to improve their appearance, dental veneers could be a faster alternative to braces. Veneers are thin shells of porcelain or composite resin that are placed over the front of teeth.
Veneers can avoid the long treatment time of braces, but they can't fix major orthodontic issues and they may not be suitable if you grind your teeth. As some enamel may need to be removed first, teeth can sometimes feel more sensitive after being prepared for veneers.
In the most severe cases, oral surgery may be recommended if your teeth or jaws are too misaligned to correct with braces or if you need a bone graft to increase the size of your jaw prior to treatment.
1. Orthodontics Australia. Am I too old for orthodontic treatment? [Online] 2019 [Accessed November 2021] Available from: https://orthodonticsaustralia.org.au/braces-as-adult/
2. Do L & Luzzi L 2019. Oral Health Status. p38-96. In: ARCPOH. Australia’s Oral Health: National Study of Adult Oral Health 2017–18. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide, South Australia.