There’s one very good reason why braces aren’t just for kids any more and so many grown-ups are wearing them: they are no longer just about straightening your teeth. They can improve the shape and structure of your whole face – and thereby take years off your appearance.
Orthodontics is increasingly seen as an alternative to cosmetic work. It’s far less invasive and a fraction of the cost. According to Dr Sameer Patel, clinical director of specialist dental practice Elleven, the effects can be dramatic.
“Orthodontic treatments can transform your entire face, not just your teeth,” he says. “A brace lifts the mouth upwards, making the face look younger and firmer. This change in facial structure makes the eyes instantly open wider and the skin around the mouth look tauter.
“Patients also notice their cheekbones become more prominent, their smile is wider and there is better facial symmetry.”
Dr Patel describes Elleven’s approach as “facially driven dentistry”. He is seeing increasing numbers of patients in their fifties, who often missed the boat for braces when they were younger and may have put up with crooked teeth for years. His solution is a combination of orthodontics, whitening and rebuilding teeth that are worn or chipped.
The shape of our faces is determined by facial tissues and bone structure, which includes the teeth. Our facial tissue loses elasticity over the years, and at the same time the teeth naturally tend to sink in towards the tongue, and may start to cross over and look irregular.
As a result the support in our cheeks and lips is reduced. Orthodontics can help to reverse these natural gravity changes.
Dr Asif Chatoo, founder of the London Lingual Orthodontic Clinic, says, “If the teeth are leaning in, braces can round things out, correct the alignment of the teeth and provide support for the lips.
“This can eliminate some of those little lines around the mouth, and may also make the lines from the nose to the corners of the mouth less pronounced. It depends on the treatment and the nature of the initial problem.”
Clearly the more work you have done the more dramatic the effect on your overall appearance. Straightening a few crooked bottom teeth won’t have the same impact as more extensive work – although it will still make your smile look healthier and brighter.
One reason for the surge of interest in orthodontics must be that modern braces are either discreet, like Invisalign, or totally invisible. Lingual braces are fixed behind the teeth so no one can see that you’re walking around with a mouthful of metal.
Also, advances in technology have reduced treatment times by as much as nine months. That could mean wearing braces for just over a year rather than two. It also means fewer of those wince-making appointments to get the wires tightened.
All this is possible because software now allows the orthodontist to predict the movement of each tooth down to the last millimetre. Instead of having an impression of your teeth made, as in the past, a scanner – slightly bigger than an electric toothbrush – takes 3D images of each tooth.
Dr Chatoo explains: “From the moment treatment starts I can see exactly how the teeth will move in much more detail. Being able to design custom-made wires – which are then bent in the lab by robots – allows me to finesse final tooth movements to achieve exactly what the patient wants.”
But some things haven’t changed: wearing braces is still uncomfortable at times – painful, some would say. It can also affect eating.
If the teeth are to stay in their beautiful new alignment, it’s essential to wear a permanent fixed retainer, as well as a removable one for the early weeks. It may be no big deal, and it doesn’t hurt, but it needs factoring in.
This kind of treatment is a considerable investment of time, commitment and money. An average treatment plan at Elleven is between £6,000 and £7,000 (including whitening and bonding). The initial consultation is £125.
At the London Lingual Orthodontic Clinic fees start at £4,000.. For comprehensive treatment, involving upper and lower lingual braces, the fees start from £7,000.
However, less drastic first steps, such as whitening and rebuilding worn or chipped teeth, can also make a big difference to the overall appearance of your mouth. So does good hygiene: brushing carefully and flossing to keep your breath sweet and gum disease at bay.
Ultimately it all comes down to confidence: if you feel good about your teeth you’ll smile more readily. As Dr Patel says, “What tends to happen naturally is that once people have had their teeth straightened they show more teeth – and when you show more teeth you look younger.”