Adult Braces or Adult Orthodontics: Conspiracy theories, guinea pigs, and naiveté

Welcome.  I’m an older adult and I’ve had my braces off for two years now.  Since you are talking about approximately four years from the time I got them on, off, to now two years later, I have earned the right to have my say.  Adult braces are not without their issues (adult braces hell aside).  Here are my observations of adult braces or braces in general, and I’ve thrown in a couple of conspiracy theories for good measure.

What the heck!?  These things are not easy.  Who came up with this whole concept anyway?  I can see it for children with major issues or problems who have no other choice and maybe for a couple of adults in similar situations, but, my God, talk about a nightmare.  Way back at age 48 when I got my upper braces on in July, I thought it was bad enough, and then I got my lower braces on around September.  By October, I was really wrestling with the daily compounding stress they were adding to my life.  I highly, highly debated going to my orthodontist and having them taken out.  I could not believe the constant discomfort and inflammation.  I had minor pain, but my gums felt and looked so inflamed it was ridiculous.  And, then I kept getting mouth sores.  There were other sources of irritation too.  The only thing that got me through October was that I had an emergency orthodontist’s number in my wallet, so if I truly could not stand it any more, I figured I could go running to him, even though I may be out significant cash.

I made it through October, and continued to put up with the significant amount of stress they added to my life for months to come.  In hindsight, I wonder if I shouldn’t have asked for a partial refund and gotten them taken out in October.  The main reason why I didn’t, is that I paid the $5,500 up front so I could save a $200 administrative fee.  In hindsight, maybe I should not have paid the full right away, because it did leave me with less exit options. 

Why do you need exit options?  I’ll try to tell you what I went through just with my braces on for an entire year and a half.  I’ll talk about the retainer later.  The discomfort, inflammation, and sores I had in October continued, with a few normal weeks here and there, pretty much until the very end.  There were other issues too, but due to length, I won’t go into them here.  When I told my orthodontist about these issues, I more or less got the response that everything appeared normal, so what was the big deal?  It was almost like even though I was an adult and paid $5,500 up front, my orthodontist thought I could be ignored or not believed.  I began to realize that I was just being treated like one of the children at the clinic—blown off and report to mom and dad later.  However, in my case there was no mom and dad to report to.  I realized that the orthodontic industry has no problem using the EXACT same bedside techniques on a 48 year old as they do an 11 year old, and they think this is okay.  Hey!!, there is a big difference between a child getting braces because mommy and daddy have made them and insurance picking up the tab vs. an adult getting braces because they think they are somehow improving their own mouth, and the adult picking up the tab.  There are a lot of other differences with adults and children to take into consideration too. 

After getting little response from my clinic, I looked into some of these differences myself and discovered that adult’s mouths are more prone to dryness.  I remember my clinic telling me to use copious amounts of fluoride, rinse every night just before bed, and so on.  Fluoride can be drying.  Could this have been one of the causes of my mouth irritation?  Major dryness in my mouth.  Nonetheless, the sores continued.  I brushed multiple times a day and flossed, as told, and I don’t smoke or drink coffee or alcohol.  I could get the sores to go away for at least a little while using oral rinses, which also can dry the mouth, but the trade off was stomach upset, try as hard as I could not to swallow the stuff.  Throughout the entire time my braces were on, I couldn’t help but get the feeling I was out-running a major infection or two by only a couple of rinses.  It is very scary to feel like you have little or no control over your mouth, and again, I do not believe the orthodontic industry has taken this into consideration at all with adults.  Children, on the other hand, are accustomed to limited control.  Sadly, about the only ills of getting adults braces that I see any orthodontist allude to, on the internet anyway, is how they will look.  Give me a break.  Again, this is what teens are worried about.  Way more important than how they look, for most adults, is concern about control over their own mouths and lives being taken away.  In my opinion braces take away a lot of control from an adult, especially when you are having issues and no one seems to care.  Eating and speaking are both vital functions, and if things aren’t going right in that area, then the feeling is nothing is going right.

Remember, you cannot force your orthodontist to do anything once your braces are on, you can only adamantly request.  Since I work in the medical industry, I see a real double-standard when it comes to medical treatment vs. orthodontic treatment. The medical industry is highly regulated by U.S. governing bodies.  I am not sure how the orthodontic industry is regulated?  I hope it isn’t self-regulated by some organization or similar vs. a U.S. regulatory body?  Case in point, I have read several stories of how this orthodontist or that orthodontist refused to remove braces until their patient (or patient’s parents) paid up.  This would absolutely never fly in the medical industry.  Compare this to a patient getting a leg brace on and a medical doctor refusing to remove it without payment or payment from the patient’s parents.  I can see the headline on the local news channel already. . . .  Here is another question:  Are braces considered a surgical procedure or not?  Even though I was told or led to believe that braces aren’t really that complicated and just a little inconvenient, I was horrified how impactful and surgical-like they were on my life and body the entire 1 ½ years they were in.  I would definitely compare it to going around with a leg brace on for 1 ½ years.  Just like you have this big bulky thing on your leg that prevents you from being able to move right, with braces you have these big bulky things in your mouth that prevents you from eating right or possibly speaking right, along with a list of other inconveniences. 

On to the retainer.  Again, who came up with this?  I think the retainers should really be called ‘braces’.  The braces should really be called something else, perhaps ‘oral casts’.  In my opinion, what the retainer is really doing is bracing your mouth while it recovers.  I’m not sure about anyone else, although I have my suspicions, but I was led to believe that once your braces are off they are off.  I was told of the retainer, but almost as an afterthought.  Again, the allusion was it was minor inconvenience.  Since I had never had braces before, I had nothing to go by and figured the retainer would be as easy as I was led to believe the braces would be.  Not so.  In my case, the retainer was almost as problematic as the braces.  Even though I spoke like a cartoon duck sometimes when my braces were on, this was really elevated to a fine art when my retainers were in.  Again, no budging from my orthodontist.  As far as my orthodon. was concerned, they fit just fine.  Am I really supposed to wear these things for multiple hours each day, having to take them out and clean them before and after each meal, going to business meetings speaking like a cartoon duck, and making sure that before I smooch anyone I either take them out or purse my lips correctly?  Does the orthodontic industry really think adults should have no problem putting up with this idiot icy?  Only way after my braces were in, did I strongly get the message from my clinic that unless I wear my retainer whenever they tell me to, multiple hours each day, my teeth could go back to their old foundations.  I finally figured, sorry.  Joke’s on you.  I’m taking back control of my mouth and life and really don’t care about the consequences. Like a certain amount of people, I gave up after a while and figured I’ve had enough, and it is time to let sleeping dogs lie and put the retainers away in their little container and say so-long to my orthodontist.  And, I realize I might have said so-long to my $5,500 investment too. 

I wrote this opinion piece, and I did not even tell you how my teeth looked once I got my braces off!  Maybe that is because I am basically past caring.  They look fine.  The appearance is better than pre-braces.  However, I cannot say that they were worth what I went through.  I do know one thing:  My teeth are definitely weaker now than they were pre-braces.  Two years later my mouth still gets sore sometimes when I chew on a little too many peanuts, for instance.  Pre-braces, I could eat a bag of carrots and a bag of Fritos and still have room for more before my mouth would start to ache.  I would say I got nice-looking with my teeth, but lost performance and added a significant amount of stress to my life.  Let’s leave it at:  Adult braces, there are definite trade offs.  Really not worth it in my case, but maybe worth it to others?  Or, maybe any adult getting braces is really just a guinea pig, with the industry being relatively new in marketing to adults.  Or, maybe the orthodontic industry is just naïve about the whole thing, and will wake up sooner than later and come up with some new techniques.  Those are my conspiracy theories, and I’m sticking to ‘em.