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Is This The Ultimate In “Never Too Late”?

What I finally did at age 54.

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Chloe Batchelor
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I got braces at 54. Actually, I got braces again at 54. My bottom teeth had been shifting for several years. My self-confidence was tanking, and it was increasingly difficult to floss.  

My teen orthodontia story is probably the same as everyone else’s. I wore braces for three years as a kid. After, I wore two retainers to keep my teeth from shifting, removable on top and permanent on the bottom. My orthodontist reminded me that my parents had shelled out a lot of money for braces and told me to wear my retainer.

My bottom retainer broke when I was 21. I didn’t fully understand how insurance worked but  knew I was no longer on my dad’s policy. My options were to ask him for money to replace it or pay out of my pocket.

I decided on a third option: say nothing. I was certain that conversation with my dad would be a gateway to a lecture about responsibility. Twenty-one-year-old me decided her teeth looked fine and filed the broken retainer under “not important.”

Adulthood rolled forward and I didn’t think much about my teeth. I eventually got my own insurance, visited the dentist yearly, and thanked anyone who complimented my smile.

The shifting began in my late 40s, although it was negligible at first. My initial reaction was to tell myself it wasn’t that noticeable. My bottom teeth didn’t show unless I opened my mouth wide. My top row was 1981 straight.

By 2019, my bottom right incisor had moved so far back it was shadowed by the bottom left incisor, giving the appearance of discoloration. The phrase “snaggle tooth” came to mind when I looked at my reflection. I began shielding my mouth with my hand when speaking. The onset of Zoom culture was the catalyst that prompted me to explore braces. Facing my image on camera brought a whole new level of anxiety about my looks. I convinced myself that my teeth were the focus of every conversation. Logic told me that wasn’t true, but my fixation on what I believed to be my most glaring flaw impacted my professional and social communications.

In November 2020, I surveyed my finances and decided I could manage the cost of braces. I googled “Orthodontists near me” and didn’t look back.

My new orthodontist was nonplussed about my age. (A 2016 study published by the American Association of Orthodontists reported an estimated 27 percent of orthodontic patients in the United States and Canada are 18 and older.) 

He said there was no maximum age for treatment and that he had patients of all ages. We discussed Invisalign versus traditional braces. Since this round was on my dime, I wanted to give myself the best shot at success. I worried about being disciplined enough to keep the Invisalign trays in my mouth if I could easily remove them. I chose traditional braces.

Since my alignment was good and my top teeth were still straight, I got bottom braces only. My orthodontist estimated I’d wear braces for about nine months. It ended up being seven. I had the choice of metal or subdued tooth-colored braces. I picked metal because the cost was about $500 less. I was getting braces at 54 and it would be full-on shiny. I was usually the oldest patient in the waiting room when I went for adjustments. Most of the patients were accompanied by their parents. (I’m pretty sure I was older than most of the parents, too.)

There was a selfie station by the reception desk. These things didn’t make me feel silly or self-conscious. I was doing this for me.

Orthodontia has evolved over 40 years. The treatment worked much faster. I saw (and felt) my teeth moving back into alignment after less than a month. Some things didn’t change: My teeth and jaw ached, and the inside of my mouth was raw from the brackets rubbing against skin.

Reaction to my braces was positive. Several contemporaries shared that they’d thought about getting braces (or getting them again), and seeing a peer going for it inspired them to consider it more seriously.

I’ll wear a retainer indefinitely. My orthodontist says adult patients are more diligent than teens about maintenance. I cried in the chair the day I got my braces off. I celebrated by buying a red lipstick. I’d stopped wearing bright lipstick because it drew attention to my mouth. I want everyone to notice my smile now.

I’m so glad I didn’t let the “Eh, I’m too old for this to really matter” thoughts influence my decision. This is easily one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. Zero regrets … except maybe about not using that selfie station.