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Published September 17, 2012, 11:35 PM

Brace yourself: More adults getting orthodontic work as techonology changes

MOORHEAD – When adult orthodontic patients ask Dr. Matthew Ames if they’re too old for braces, he replies, “Well, do you smile?” Ames, of Harvey Orthodontics here, says he gets that question a lot, but there’s no reason adults of any age can’t get their teeth straightened.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

MOORHEAD – When adult orthodontic patients ask Dr. Matthew Ames if they’re too old for braces, he replies, “Well, do you smile?”

Ames, of Harvey Orthodontics here, says he gets that question a lot, but there’s no reason adults of any age can’t get their teeth straightened.

In fact, Dr. Jeffrey Harvey says adults make up about 40 percent of their practice, and he’s had patients well into their mid-70s.

“Now it’s really common,” he says.

After wearing braces for a couple years in her teens and retainers on and off during her adult life, 38-year-old Stefanie Gefroh Ellison of Fargo decided to give it another try.

“It wasn’t so much a cosmetic thing for me as when my dentist told me I was starting to get extra wear and tear because of how they were coming into contact,” she says.

Gefroh Ellison says some of her front teeth had started shifting backward, a few of her bottom teeth had started rotating, and the enamel was starting to weaken as a result.

“It was more like a health and teeth-preservation issue for me,” she says.

Harvey and Ames say the natural shifting of teeth with age (or from ignoring retainer recommendations) is a common reason adults seek orthodontic treatment later in life.

“As you get older, your bottom teeth get crowded, and you’re more susceptible – in some people – to periodontal disease, because it’s impossible to floss and brush or for your hygienist to have access correctly,” Harvey says.

He says improved technology has made it a lot easier to undergo orthodontic treatment than it used to be.

Today’s more flexible, robotically formed wires provide a more constant force, which means fewer appointments and less pain for patients.

“In the ’80s, you would see them every three to four weeks. Now we see them eight, occasionally a little longer, but eight’s pretty common,” with more frequent visits toward the end, he says.

When Gefroh Ellison had her braces placed in March, she opted for clear brackets on her top teeth so they’d be less noticeable.

“I think that’s nice, especially for adults,” she says. “I think it’s kind of nice to have some of it concealed.”

Adults can also choose Incognito braces mounted on the backsides of their teeth or Invisalign graduated clear trays.

The customized Incognito wires and brackets are completely hidden in the patient’s mouth.

“I may have them on and you don’t know,” Ames says.

Harvey says Invisalign has a hard time moving teeth backwards and forwards, up and down, and rotating large teeth.

“It’s made for very, very minor things,” he says. “We’ll do it, but not too often.”

Though changes in the field have made realignment easier for adults, they do face additional challenges during orthodontic treatment.

Ames says adult gums and other tooth-supporting structures are generally more fragile.

“As an adult, as a non-growing person, things are a little less plastic, a little less malleable,” he says.

For Gefroh Ellison, the differences are financial, social and personal.

When she was a teenager, she didn’t have to think about how much they cost and she didn’t realize how much of an investment they were.

Now, “You actually see it, and you have to make the payments yourself, and it’s hard to find insurance,” she says.

The “rules,” however, are the same for adults as adolescents: wear your rubber bands, brush and floss your teeth, and avoid hard, crunchy and chewy foods.

This time around, she’s more careful about what she eats, how she eats and how she cleans her teeth around the wires and brackets.

“I wanted to be a good patient because I haven’t been very good for a long time,” she says.

Gefroh Ellison says she’s always been a slow eater, but her orthodontics have slowed her down even more.

“My friends and I went out to dinner over the weekend, and they’re done in about a half-hour, and I’m still sitting there picking at my sandwich with a knife and fork,” she says.

For the most part, wearing braces hasn’t been that big a deal for her, but once in a while she gets a reminder that shakes her self-confidence, like when she did a TV interview for work.

“I couldn’t even watch the tape because I felt like my speech had changed from what I hear,” she says.

She does notice it more when other people, especially adults, have braces.

“When I go for appointments, I see a nice mix of adolescent and adult patients, which makes me feel so much more comfortable,” she says.

Gefroh Ellison knows when she finishes treatment, she’s going to be happy she did it.

“The first week, I thought, ‘What am I getting myself into?’ but time goes by fast, and before I know it, they’ll be off,” she says.

And how does Gefroh Ellison plan to celebrate her de-banding?

“I think some caramel will be involved,” she says with a smile.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590

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