I got braces in May 2016, at the age of 27. I wore them for 1.5 years – getting them out shortly after my 29th birthday. In this article I will share my experience as an adult with braces and what you can expect the process to be like.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and do not pretend to be one. I am simply sharing a personal experience of mine in this article. Please consult a medical professional for advice on any health problems that you might have.
Once you decide to get an orthodontic treatment, your orthodontist will judge what kind of tools and measures will be necessary to achieve perfectly aligned teeth in your personal case. Most of the time, this involves braces. In my case, a treatment with a palatal expander was necessary before I could move on to braces. You can read about my experience with the palatal expander here. I also underwent jaw surgery to fix a severe underbite as part of my orthodontic treatment, which you can read about here. However, I’m going to focus purely on my experience with braces in this article to stay on topic and keep the content relevant to readers specifically interest in the subject of braces for adults. Let’s dive in!
Preparing the teeth for braces
Wearing braces can be uncomfortable – especially at the beginning. And the discomfort actually starts before you get the braces in. Your teeth need to be prepared for braces – your molars to be more specific. Not very visible to others, but a quite integral part of braces are so called molar bands – rings out of metal that are placed around your molars (typically one on each side at the top and bottom, so 4 in total). However, if you don’t naturally have space for the bands to fit around your molars, this space needs to be created first. To achieve that, typically, metal wires are pushed between the molar that will get a band around it and the surrounding teeth. Each metal wire will excert massive amounts of pressure to push your teeth apart. This can be very uncomfortable. When I got the wires inserted, I initially felt like my jaw is going to explode, but luckily the pressure decreaed rather quickly and became quite bearable after around 30 minutes. However, over the couple of days between getting the wires in and getting your braces installed, I experienced quite a lot of irritation and developed sores from the wires poking into my cheek. By the morning I was supposed to get the braces in, one of the wires actually had disappeared, making me afraid that something went wrong and the installation of the braces has to be postponed. Luckily, my orthodontist assured me that it is not a problem and just means that the necessary space has been created. I must have accidentally swallowed it and it should just pass through my digestive system without problems :).
The big day – getting the braces in!
The big day starts out with your orthodontist finding the right size metal bands to put on your molars. They will try on different sizes, which might be a tad uncomfortable since it takes a bit of force to get the rings on and off (also ouch on the gums!). For me, this was a lengthy process as it turns out that I have unreasonably huge teeth. Once the right size is found, you get your molars covered with dental cement on the sides and the bands are put on to stay there for as long as you have the braces. This is where the time for braces has finally come. First your teeth get polished and orthodontic adhesive is placed on every tooth that will get a bracket. Your orthodontist will then place each individual bracket on your teeth. This requires some force as well and feels quite uncomfortable. I can remember hearing some of my teeth making slight noises and was a little bit worried they would break off, but fortunately I made it through just fine. Once all brackets are on and the adhesive is cured, a wire is pulled through the brackets and secured with tiny rubber bands around each bracket. Voila – your braces are complete!
You might also get so called “power chains” fixed to some of your teeth. A power chain is made up of connected rubber bands that are placed on several brackets in a row to move or keep certain teeth together. If you have some form of misalignment, you might also need to wear larger elastics, which you have to attach to the hooks some brackets come with – usually on the canines and molars (more on rubber bands in the “What to expect during follow-up appointments” further down in the article).
I was super excited as my orthodontist handed me the mirror and I could finally see myself with a braced smile. I was worried since I was an adult woman close to her 30s, that it might look extremely awkward but to my surprise, it did not look horrible at all. And seeing myself with braces was such a symbolic sight – it screamed “Change is happening!” and that made me so happy.
On the day I got the braces in, I got wax from my orthodontist and a warning that the next few days might be uncomfortable. That turned out quite true and I am very happy I had the wax handy. Initially it was not much of a big deal, but after around two days, it started feeling like I had barbed wire glued to my teeth, scratching up the inside of my mouth. The sores made speaking and smiling quite painful, but sticking wax onto the brackets helped a lot (warning though, it melts when in contact with hot fluids like tea). On top of that my teeth were very sore from the pressure, especially since I had to wear quite sturdy elastics on top of the braces – eating and especially brushing my teeth was horribly painful. The latter problem actually led me to brush my teeth only very shortly & gently in the first couple of days, which is something you should avoid doing longterm, since having braces requires a more intensive than usual oral hygiene to keep your teeth cavity free.
Fortunately, even though I couldn’t imagine it possible at that point, somehow my mouth healed and I stopped developing sores after a couple of weeks.
Sometimes, things have to become worse before they can become better. That is often the case for an orthodontic treatment as well. Be prepared to develop unsightly gaps. These are only temporary though and created on purpose by your orthodontist. Creating gaps around twisted teeth is necessary in order to turn them for example.
Oral hygiene with braces
Keeping your teeth clean and white is a bit of a challenge when you have braces, but it is not imposssible! My oral hygiene routine has drastically changed since I got the braces in. It’s quite hard to get your tooth brush into every corner around the brackets and the wire, so you need special tools to achieve the same level of cleanliness as you can with a normal toothbrush and teeth without braces. I am currently working on an article on the perfect oral hygiene routine for braces.
Eating with braces
Longterm, what bothered me the most is that food kept getting stuck in my braces when eating. Eating around others was always embarrasing since I knew that there are probably huge chunks of food stuck in my teeth, so I avoided speaking too much before I got the chance to clean my teeth. I always carried a small mirror and toothpicks with me for that reason. I have noticed though, that somehow I learned to eat with less and less food getting stuck in my braces as my orthodontic treatment went on, but I never became a pro at it – I only wore braces for 1.5 years though, so maybe that’s too short to make the judgement that this is something you will have to deal with the entire duration of your life with braces.
Contrary to what I expected, my confidence did not plummet to new depths after I got the braces in. Knowing I am in the process of becoming a more healthy and beautiful self was actually very empowering. The fact that my starting point was only temporay made me look at it from a much less negative perspective as well. I took as many selfies as never before – capturing the transformation was incredibly fun! Also, I realized something else that I didn’t expect to. Adults with braces are everywhere! I was far from special – I suddenly noticed that the middle aged cashier at the local grocery store had braces, two of my co-workers at my new job had braces and so did that stranger on the tram and even a musician I just had discovered. It was almost eerie at how many adults with braces I suddenly come across, but so reassuring. So, looking back I would definitely give myself the advice to not let fear of looking stupid hold me back – now, unfortunately I don’t have a time machine handy, so I will pass that advice on to anyone who is not daring to get braces because they think they will look stupid – you won’t! It’s uncomfortable at times, but the benefits far outweigh the discomfort.
What to expect during follow-up appointments
The details of your orthodontic treatment depend very much on how your teeth are aligned at the beginning of your treatment, but here are some things you can commonly expect:
Rubber band exchange
To keep the wire firmly in place, the rubber bands around your brackets have to be exchanged regularly. I got this done at every single appointment, about every 6 weeks.
To begin with, you will have a rather thin and flexible wire inserted, which excerts minimal pressure. At some of the follow-up appointments you will get a new, more sturdy wire which excerts more pressure on your teeth, continuing to push your teeth in the desired position.
To close gaps and create gaps in specific places, your orthodontist might place a chain made up of connected rubber bands onto several brackets in a row. Power chains excert a lot of pressure to push & keep certain teeth together – causing quite a lot of pain, but amazingly fast results.
If you have an open bite, a misaligned midline or slanted teeth, you might need to wear larger rubber bands that attach to the hooks some brackets come with – usually on the canines and molars. Contrary to the small rubber bands, which are placed and removed by your orthodontist, you will be in charge of placing and removing those yourself. In my case, I had to wear them around the clock to begin with, taking them out only for eating and brushing my teeth. Later on, I got the green light to only keep them on at night.
The REALLY big day – Getting your braces off!
Despite the discomfort making it feel like time goes very slow during the tough periods of your orthodontic treatment, it will come to an end at some point. And when it does, it’s glorious!
Getting the braces off your teeth is done quite quickly and painlessly, using special pliers. Afterwards, your orthodontist removes the glue and will give you a thorough cleaning. And then, you will get to go home and take the most thrilling selfies of your life! Teeth! Amazing teeth!
But wait, there’s more! Retaining your perfect bite
After you get your braces off, your orthodontic treatment usually does not end there. To avoid a relapse (and that is totally realistic if you don’t take this step serious) you will have to wear a retainer.
To begin with, I got a removable retainer that I was supposed to wear full time (except for when brushing teeth and eating). I had to wear it for 6 months, with decreased duration over time (just at night at some point).
I got a permanent retainer installed as the very last step of my orthodontic treatment. It is basically just a thin wire that is placed behind your front teeth above and below (in my case at least) and fixed with some strong adhesive. It limits your ability to floss, but it keeps your new bite perfectly in shape – very much worth the inconvenience in my opinion.
Through 2.5 years of orthodontic treatment involving a palatal expander, 1.5 years of braces and double jaw surgery in the middle of it all, I can proudly present these before and after pictures:
I never had awefully crooked teeth, but a gap between my upper two front teeth, a massive slant in my lower teeth and an obvious underbite. A lot of work had to be done with the braces as preparation for my double jaw surgery and more so afterwards, as my teeth did not meet in most places straight after.
To give you a clear idea of what impact the braces specifically had on my teeth, I have included before and after pictures showing my progress not taking the treatment with the palatal expander and the double jaw surgery into account.
I’m very happy with my results and hope this article is helpful to anyone out there!