aarp, braces, girlfriend

Verity Slade

Brace Yourself! You’re Never Too Old To Bedazzle Your Teeth

They're not just for kids.

Dorienne Taylor-Bishop first got braces while in dental school; the then-27-year-old disliked her crossbite and the gap between her front teeth, and figured she’d take advantage of her student insurance and have them fixed.

But after 19 months, she had them removed early, for her wedding, and never went back.

Fast forward to 2013: At 48, Taylor-Bishop was a successful dentist in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her two kids had left for college … but her gap had returned, along with that bite issue, which was now causing premature wear-and-tear on her teeth. “So I did it again,” she says. “At almost 50, and I got metal braces.”

According to the American Association of Orthodontists, in 2016 more than one in four U.S. orthodontic patients were 18 or older. That means nearly two million adults got grilled that year – a 49 percent increase from 2006. “Some come for purely aesthetic reasons,” says Jamie Reynolds, a private-practice orthodontist at Spillane and Reynolds Orthodontics in Novi and Rochester Hills, Michigan, who treats plenty of women age 40-plus … the record being an 87-year-old. “Others come for bite- or jaw pain-related reasons, and others cite a combination of looks and function.”

Or, maybe they were inspired by Faith Hill, Faye Dunaway, Alyssa Milano, or singer Estelle, all of whom sported tin grins as adults. Regardless, braces on grownups are a thing, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase Silver Fox.

Decades of talking and chewing, plus habits like grinding, clenches and nail biting, can cause teeth to shift as we age, regardless of whether we wore braces as preteens. Additionally, aging causes bone loss throughout the body, including the jaws. That means less of an anchor for teeth, which then start to migrate like little helicopter parents.

Terri Hepps, 44, a physician from Pittsburgh, never had braces as a kid. Over the past five years, though, her front teeth started overlapping. Her dentist told her about a short-term system called “Six Month Smiles” that claims to work for select patients in approximately half a year. “I can handle that,” Hepps says, “although I’ll miss eating popcorn and drinking red wine.” Her clear brackets go on in May.

For Heather Green, 43, a communications professional in San Antonio, wearing Invisalign — a series of clear, custom-fit plastic trays that are updated every few weeks — for the past year has helped unjumble her bottom teeth, making it easier to floss as well as smile for pics. “It needs to be worn 22 hours a day, which means removing it when I’m out to eat with friends,” she says. (Taylor-Bishop confesses this was a deal-breaker for her: “I knew I wouldn’t remember to wear them or go in for repeated fittings; I couldn’t even take the birth control pill on time!”) Green notes that she had a lisp at first, “but it’s gone. Nobody notices they’re on my teeth, and my insurance covered it.”

Advances in orthodontics mean today’s braces are smaller than ever. Besides clear braces and Invisalign, there are now behind-the-teeth braces (like Inbrace); 3D-printed “smart braces”; and a device called AcceleDent® that delivers pain-free vibrations to the teeth, speeding up treatment time. Reynolds says metal, clear or smart braces require visits to the orthodontist every two months.

Depending on the condition of your chompers, most adults can be done with treatment in seven to 18 months, with cost ranging from $5,000 to $7,000 or more. (Don’t forget to check your Flexible Spending Account for coverage.)

St. Louis college professor Deborah Maltby, 66, went for what she calls “the full metal jacket” at 54. Initially self-conscious, she soon became comfortable with her mouth jewelry … though she admits she timed it to when she’d be holed up, writing her dissertation. After eight months, she graduated with a straight, white smile (“I was obsessed with brushing well”) and now feels her smile makes her look younger and more attractive. “It’s better than Botox!” she quips.