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Straight teeth an option even for adults

DEAR DOCTOR K: I’m in my 40s and can finally afford to straighten my teeth. Am I too old for braces? What are my options?

DEAR READER: Adults have 32 teeth whose job is to break down the variety of foods in the human diet.

If someone is born with crooked teeth, childhood is the best time to get teeth straightened. But adults can and often do opt for orthodontic treatment – with excellent results.

Braces can move the teeth in a variety of directions and treat many teeth at the same time. Braces consist of brackets, usually made of stainless steel, which are cemented or bonded to tooth surfaces. Wires are threaded through the brackets to direct the force being applied to the teeth. Elastic bands or springs may be attached to boost pressure. If it suits your style, you can opt for colored wires and elastics.

You can also choose tooth-colored ceramic or clear plastic brackets, which are less noticeable. These tend to cost more than metal braces. Ceramic brackets can break, and they may not be as comfortable on lower teeth as metal brackets. Plastic brackets aren’t as strong as stainless steel and may stain over time. Treatment with ceramic and plastic devices may take longer than with stainless steel braces.

Some orthodontists offer a lingual appliance. It attaches to the back of the teeth so the brackets and wires don’t show when you smile. They can irritate the tongue and tend to be more expensive and require more care than traditional braces.

Another alternative to traditional braces is a series of removable custom-made, form-fitted trays made of clear plastic. These devices, known as aligners, exert slight pressure on the teeth, gradually moving them. Every two weeks you switch to a new set of trays until the teeth reach their final position. This system may be a good choice if you need only minor corrections.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.


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