From the age of 14 to 15, my top and bottom rows of teeth were encased in a pair of uncomfortable, unattractive and wholly unsubtle stainless steel braces. Now, aged 25, thanks to a couple of wonky wisdom teeth and several years of retainer-wearing fatigue, I’ve been transported back a decade to a period of my life I’d far rather keep locked and bolted in the deepest, darkest caverns of my memory.
Yes, after years of putting it off, I have become a paid-up member of the adult brace-wearing community. But thanks to technological advances, the confidence that comes with being a grown-up (eek!) and that wonderful place known as the internet, it’s really not so bad. Here’s why...
The world of orthodontics has moved on considerably since I last visited it and fortunately this time around I had several – rather than just one – teeth-correcting 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-coloured) braces, primarily for two reasons: firstly, because I received a cheaper quote for them and secondly, because I read online that ceramic brace-wearers should cut out red-coloured foods to avoid staining them – which would remove Heinz tomato soup and spaghetti bolognese from my diet for a year. That just wouldn’t do. 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 counterpart.
When I first had braces, I was your average 14-year-old: skinny, spotty and deeply insecure. Even though I was far from the only one in my class, let alone friendship group, to be making every-other-month trips to the orthodontist, I felt like my braces were inexplicably worse than everyone else’s. Of course, this was completely in my imagination, but it 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 diffused confidence was my 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 a boy 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. And what a fun year that was...
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 on my face.
Dating is also far simpler – I can pop them out over 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 for, 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 resource. Websites including RealSelf.com helped me weigh up 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 before you.
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 before my treatment started. I put off getting braces for several years as I couldn’t face it, during which my teeth continued to get worse and worse. 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.