Never Too Old for Braces

Chapel Hill, NC, USA – When you think of the typical patient in an orthodontist’s office, an awkward middle-schooler comes to mind. But the typical face of braces is changing and getting older. Adults are seeking dental perfection in record numbers. And it brings new challenges to both patient and orthodontist.

Eighty-one-year-old Felicia Baldwin has a lot of reasons to smile, and her age is only one of them.

“I’m in a dance group, so you have to be able to smile. And I was getting very self-conscious about smiling.”

In Baldwin’s Rockettes-style dance troupe, the straighter the kick the better, but straight teeth and a winning smile are just as essential.

So Baldwin joined more than a million other adults this year and made an appointment with an orthodontist. 

Tate H. Jackson, DDS, MS, Assistant Professor Orthodontics at UNC Chapel Hill School of Dentistry in Chapel Hill, North Carolina told Ivanhoe, “Many of these folks had children; they provided orthodontic care for them, paid for it, now they’re ready to do something for themselves.”

Lately, a third of the patients in Tate Jackson’s office are adults. They’re attracted to discreet options like clear aligners and back-of-the-teeth braces.

But once in a while, a patient like Annmarie Heffernan says ‘bring on the tinsel grin jokes.’ Heffernan said, “Here I am, 52, with braces and I did all the funky colours. So, green, never do because people say ‘You have something in your teeth.’”

Jackson says adults face challenges that kids do not. Decades of dental work like fillings, root canals and crowns can make it tough to achieve pearly perfection.

“Sometimes, because the jaws aren’t growing, we’re just a little more limited in how far we can actually move the teeth,” Jackson explained.

But for Heffernan, the added self-confidence made two years with braces worth it. Baldwin has eight months to go and can’t wait for the last band to come out.

Before adults can get braces, they have to make sure their teeth are free of cavities and gum disease. It can set you back between $3,000 and $7,000, and typically medical insurance won’t cover the cost of braces unless you have a medical reason for needing them; dental insurance will often cover some of the cost. But both women saved money by going to a dental school.

(Contributors to this news report include: Jessica Sanchez, Supervising and Field Producer; Cortni Spearman, Assistant Producer and Brent Sucher, Editor/Videographer.)