I have never shied away from a smile. I’ve always smiled big and boldly, never hesitating. Even though, up until I was 35, I suffered from a severely overcrowded bottom row and a poked out top row. Some teeth were turned all the way around, and others leaned to the side and fought for space.
I sucked my thumb until I was 16 years old. It wasn’t until high school biology that I realized exactly how gross it all was and stopped immediately. But the damage had been done by that point. My teeth were a wreck.
It never occurred to me to be bashful about smiling. I never really thought about it. Until one day I laughed heartily about something, and my mother looked at me and said, “I always regretted not being able to get you braces.”
The comment wasn’t meant to be hurtful, and honestly, I didn’t take it that way. But it did make me a little self-conscious. We were really starting to enter the age of social media and taking selfies and photographically documenting every moment in life became the norm. I started noticing more and more that I would filter pics so much that you couldn’t detect any crookedness at all in my teeth. Though people may not have noticed it in pictures, they definitely saw it in person. After mulling it over for the better part of a year, I eventually found myself on the quest to get braces.
I did my research, visited a few dentists and orthodontists. I consulted friends and family, and sometimes I even got a lot of unsolicited feedback from people that caught wind of my plans. I actually had someone ask me why I was bothering with braces when I’m already so old. I was floored! I was 35, I wasn’t dead!
But what I was at the time was broke. Or at least broke-ish.
I was at a point where money was tight, and it was hard to fathom paying for something so costly. Especially something that was NOT a necessity. I had some plotting and planning to do if I wanted to get this done. There were a lot of factors to consider, and I wanted to make sure I did my due diligence before I got started.
Quite a few things factored into my thought process. Here is a list of my top five things you should consider if you are thinking about adult orthodontia.
- Know your insurance options. When I first began this voyage, many dental plans did not cover adult orthodontia. A few plans were just starting to cover adult ortho up to 50%, and many plans did not even do that. Some required you to be a plan member for a year before they would cover adult ortho. Others covered adult braces the first year you enrolled in their plan. If you are considering braces, do your research when your open enrollment period happens. Talk to the plan representatives, read your materials, and get a full understanding of which plans cover what costs. Another thing that helped financially was enrolling in a flexible spending account (FSA). This allowed me to use my pre-tax dollars to reimburse myself for medical expenses. It’s really important that you make your benefits work for you as much as possible. Ask questions. Know your options.
- Shop around. Every orthodontist does things differently. Some orthodontists do Invisalign, some only do traditional braces. And believe it or not, there are other options in between. In my case, I visited three orthodontists prior to the one I selected. They all wanted me to get several teeth pulled before they’d put the braces on. I had no interest in doing that. It involved more money, more pain, and coordinating between an oral surgeon and the ortho. When I finally met my ortho, she told me about something called fast track braces. They moved the root and tooth simultaneously (whereas others move the tooth, and then the root moves after the tooth moves…WHAT???) She also told me that she wouldn’t need to remove any teeth because there are different facial profiles, and as an African American, my facial profile is a little wider around the jaw than a Euro or Caucasian facial profile. She told me that she could move my teeth without making space first, and thus, no teeth needed to be pulled. The downside was that she didn’t do Invisalign so I would be a very noticeable metal mouth for the duration of my process.
- Do what’s best for you and no one else. When I was confronted by the naysayer who asked why I was bothering getting braces “so late in life”, it almost discouraged me to the point of reconsidering. But my orthodontist told me something: “The years are going to pass regardless of whether you do this or not. Why not have a pretty smile at the end of it?” She was so right. I knew this was something that I wanted. I was paying for it, I had to deal with how my smile looked, and it was not up to anyone else whether I did this or not. If that person thought I was too old, that was on them. I knew I had plenty of life to live, and I wanted to do it with a smile that I loved.
- Commit to the entire process. I cannot stress this enough. Do everything that your ortho tells you. Stay on schedule with your appointments. Stay away from foods that will cause damage to the braces or your teeth. Clean, floss, use mouthwash, all of it. Braces cost entirely too much to do the process half way. As an adult, you have better appreciation for what you are spending your hard earned money on and what you are sacrificing to get the work done. So make sure it’s done well and done right. Do your part to ensure a successful outcome, and make sure that your money and time are not wasted. And the most common advice from everyone that has ever had braces…wear your retainer. The process is not over just because the braces come off. Wearing your retainer afterwards is crucial to making sure your teeth don’t slip back into their old formation and that you haven’t thrown money into the trash.
- Realize that braces are more than just a pretty smile. Getting braces, for me, was not just a cosmetic issue. Getting braces improved my overall oral health. First and foremost, the process helped me get serious about my cleanings, dental procedures, and keeping my teeth healthy. I became diligent about flossing, and I make appointments at the first sign of any issues such as cavities or other discomfort. I had previously developed a habit of waiting until issues got bad and resulted in costly, painful procedures. Getting braces made me change my overall mindset about my oral health. Getting rid of the overcrowding in my teeth helped reduce my near bouts with gingivitis and gum disease. And honestly, I love going to the dentist now. Having regular appointments and establishing a rapport with my ortho made me feel a level of comfort when I walk in the office. Now when I go in for visits, I am excited. I want to chat with the people there, and I want to show my dentist that I’m sticking to the things she’s asked of me.
Even when it was painful, I enjoyed the process of having braces. I embraced it for all it was worth. I got the colorful rubber bands, and I got them changed every month. I had people hit on me because they thought I was much younger than I was, and it cracked me up every time.
I have always loved laughing and smiling. And now I love looking at my selfies. I don’t try to cover up or whitewash my teeth with filters. Even in my worst picture, my smile makes me smile. And I love that. It was worth every penny spent and every pain endured.
Have you thought about getting braces as an adult? What concerns do you have? What’s stopping you? I would love to hear from you and I will gladly share my experience!