What I've Learned From Wearing Adult Braces

Photo: Evan Agostini/Getty Images
From the age of 14 to 15, my top and bottom rows of teeth were encased in uncomfortable, unattractive, and wholly unsubtle stainless steel braces. Now, at 25, thanks to a couple of wonky wisdom teeth and several years of retainer-wearing fatigue, I’ve been transported back that period of my life, one I’d rather keep locked in the deepest caverns of my memory.
After years of putting it off, I have become a paid-up member of the adult-braces wearing community. But thanks to technological advances, the confidence that comes with being a grownup, and that wonderful place known as the internet, it’s really not so bad this time.
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The world of orthodontics has moved on considerably since I last visited it, and this time around I had several options to choose from. Unsurprisingly, I did not opt for the metal train-tracks of my youth. After much consideration I chose Invisalign aligners rather than ceramic (teeth-colored) braces, primarily for two reasons: firstly, because they were cheaper, and secondly, because I read online that ceramic brace-wearers should cut out red foods to avoid staining them — which would remove tomato soup and spaghetti bolognese from my diet for a year. No thanks.
Although I need to wear my Invisalign aligners for 22 hours a day (which, to be honest, is often more like 20), and take them out to eat and drink, which is a pain, they are undoubtedly subtler, more comfortable, and less restrictive than their metallic predecessors.
When I first had braces, I was your average 14-year-old: spotty and deeply insecure. Even though I was far from the only one in my class, let alone friend group, to be making every-other-month trips to the orthodontist, I felt like my braces were inexplicably worse than everyone else’s. The fact that that was surely in my own head didn’t stop me from developing a creepy closed-mouth smile that was more of a leer than anything else, and an obsession with tooth-brushing that would make even a dentist grimace.
Hand in hand with my dim confidence came a non-existent love life. Having had little experience of the opposite sex pre-braces, with them, boys became a total minefield. What if I kissed someone with braces, and our braces got entwined, only to be removed by a surgeon or, even worse, a parent? Or what if I kissed a boy without braces and he somehow cut himself on the metal? No, it was better to avoid kissing altogether, which is what I did for almost the whole of 2006. How fun for me.
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Being a 25-year-old with braces is an entirely different ballgame. Although I have an inexplicable urge to tell everyone I speak to that I am wearing adult braces (despite the fact that they can clearly see for themselves once they get close enough), I have learned that it is far better to own them than to shrink into the sidelines with an eerie, closed-mouth half-smile.
Dating is also far simpler — I can pop my pair out pre-dinner and drinks and put them back in when I’m feeling a bit more comfortable. Being older has also given me a sense of perspective that I did not have when I was 14. A year, which is how long I am expected to wear my braces, does not feel like eternity stretching before me as it did back then. In fact, I find it mind-boggling to think that I have been wearing my braces for five months already.
I was concerned before I started my Invisalign treatment because, at the time, I didn’t know anyone who had done it, and therefore couldn’t discuss with a pal whether or not it was a worthy investment. However, I have found the internet to be an incredibly useful and reassuring place (imagine that!). Websites including RealSelf.com helped me weigh the pros and cons of that style of brace, and blogs like Straight Talking Teeth have been a real comfort. It’s great to hear personal stories and read tips from fellow adult brace-wearers who have been through the process.
I’m not going to say there haven’t been moments when I have regretted attempting to correct my teeth as an adult but, generally, it has been a far more pleasant experience than I anticipated. I put off getting braces for several years, unable to face it, during which my teeth continued to get more crooked. My best advice for those considering following me down the brace trail would be: Do it sooner rather than later, take time to research which style would be best for you, and — most importantly — wear them with confidence.
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