Almost exactly seven months ago, I wrote a post about my decision to get adult braces. In the months between then and now, my teeth, lips and jaw – my face in general – have endured a considerable amount of aggro: teeth shifting in my skull, wires cutting into my cheeks, lips drier than the Sahara no matter how much Vaseline I slapped on them – not to mention the inevitable skin capillary damage incurred from the routine face-reddening that followed the discovery of small forests of salad protruding from my mechanical smile.
Pain. Expense. Humiliation. But was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. I feel more confident about my smile, it’s much easier to clean my teeth, my recurring jaw pain has lessened as my bite has straightened out, and as a lovely bonus, I feel a kind of pride about the whole thing – not in my appearance necessarily, but the fact that I worked hard and endured a lot of discomfort and rigmarole to change something I didn’t like. Empowerment, if you will. (Of course, there were numerous days when I would find it all so tedious and difficult that I felt like taking pliers to my gob and just ending it there and then.)
I’ve had lots of questions about the process, and about my own experience of having adult braces, so sit back and enjoy as I harp on knowledgably…
Choosing a dentist
I cannot stress enough how important it is to do your research, here. There are hundreds of cosmetic dentistry practices out there offering ‘straighter smiles’, and while the actual technology is largely the same across the board, what really makes the difference is the level of time, care and trust you receive. You’re essentially putting your physical wellbeing in the hands of somebody else, and choosing a dentist based purely on price or proximity means you could be setting yourself up for a very miserable few months – or longer. Pay attention to online reviews and go to free consultations to make sure you’re comfortable with the place you choose. I went for a consultation at a clinic in Harley Street – thinking that its prestigious location would guarantee quality – and left vowing never to return after the staff spent little time talking about my needs and a lot of time talking about payment plans. In the end I chose UltraSmile, and I’m so glad I did, even if their Limehouse location was a total ballache for me in Tooting.
What type of braces?
‘Dental alignment technology’ (ha) has come a long way since I first had metal train tracks as a teenager (which are actually still available). Nowadays, it’s usually a toss-up between Invisalign and Six Month Smiles (although as I discovered you can get totally bitching gold – yes, GOLD – braces fitted behind your teeth for like, a million pounds or something). I’m not qualified to really comment on Invisalign, although I am currently using it for retainer purposes (more on that, later), as I opted for Six Month Smiles (SMS). SMS is essentially a train track technology, but the brackets and wire are tooth-coloured, so it’s not so obvious (unless you drink orange juice or eat a curry. More on that later, too). I chose this one because it promised quicker results and less faff than Invisalign.
How much does it cost?
Costs will vary depending on the type of braces you choose, your clinic and whether they’re offering any deals (almost all of them are at some point). My complete treatment cost £2,795 including retainers (these are vital, and a lot of clinics will try to charge you extra for them). Ultrasmile gave me the option to pay half up front, and the rest in interest-free monthly instalments over four, six or ten months. It wasn’t the cheapest deal I’d seen, but I was happy with the clinic and the staff – it certainly wasn’t the most expensive, either.
What happens first?
Before I had the braces fitted I had to have a thorough check-up, an appointment with the hygienist and a set of x-rays done. This was to make sure my teeth were in good nick before I imprisoned them in plastic for six months (getting a filling or having a scale and polish with braces is basically impossible). Once I had the all-clear the dentist took an impression of my teeth, which involved having my mouth packed with gummy plaster and sitting quietly for 15 minutes waiting for it to dry, all the while dribbling and gagging like a moron.
The braces were fitted at my next appointment. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail here because the process is pretty stressful and I don’t want to put anyone off. Because my main problem is overcrowding the dentist had to file in between my teeth first (sounds worse than it is), before gently scraping the front of each tooth a little to create a bit of ‘grip’ for the brackets, which were then cemented on using some high-tech jiggery-pokery. A wire was then placed in the grooves in the brackets, and secured with little clear plastic bands. The wires were then trimmed down at the ends, so as ‘not to cause discomfort’ (that’s the theory) and I was on my way.
Does having braces hurt?
Yes. Yes, it bloody does. The first few days after having them put on were horrendous and I honestly rued the day I’d ever even considered the treatment. But of course it’s going to be painful. Your teeth – otherwise happy and content in their position in your skull – are being pushed, pulled and dragged around your jaw bone, and the soft skin of your lips and inside of your mouth suddenly has to contend with jagged bits of plastic and metal jabbing into it. The first few days are nothing short of miserable.
Here are some things you can’t do (particularly well) with freshly applied braces:
- Eat anything that isn’t pureed into mush
- Talk properly
- Wash and dry your face
- Lie on your face
- Wear lipstick
- Chew absentmindedly on a pen
- Use your teeth to separate a kirby grip (something you can’t do for the duration unfortunately – trust me, I tried)
- Enjoy a cigarette
- Do kissing
- Various sexy activities
I made the colossally stupid error of planning a fancy dinner out the day after I had mine put on. “I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” I reasoned, like an idiot. It was. I spent the whole time staring sadly at my delicious steak, as it became increasingly salted by my tears of pain and sadness.
But! The pain and discomfort doesn’t last forever. I promise. I was given a load of dental wax to coat rough bits of plastic and wire, and the ol’ alternate paracetamol/Ibuprofen system helps. I’d also say that Anbesol works a lot better than Bonjela, which just tends to slide over gums (thanks to Hayley and her teething tot for that recommendation).
After the first few days the pain subsided and I was left with a very vague – and tolerable – aching. The braces do need to be tightened every month or so which is also painful, but it’s nothing at all like the first time. Soon enough I’d stopped noticing them altogether.
It is worth noting, though, that I could go for days on end without any pain or discomfort at all and then one day I’d wake up and one particular tooth or group of teeth would be sore. Annoying, but that just meant the braces were doing their thing.
How do you look after them?
It’s a lot harder to give your teeth a good clean when they’re covered in scaffolding, so brushing took on a new, laborious dynamic. Top notch hygiene is important for two reasons: 1) It’s easy for plaque to build up around the brackets and cause cavities, and 2) When the brackets come off it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of weird and unattractive staining where they used to be. Traditional flossing was out (not that, I admit, I was particularly devout about flossing in the first place), so I was told to use those little pipe cleaner sticks instead. For someone who never flossed regularly, this was a bit of an assault on my gums, but they were useful for removing all the bits of trapped food that would otherwise drive me nuts. (I kept one in my bag at all times for covert trips to the bathroom when I was eating out). Also, don’t use whitening products (even ones that claim to work but don’t actually do anything), because that can lead to weird discolouration when the brackets come off, too.
Even though SMS is billed as being ‘nearly invisible’, the clear bands around the brackets are liable to staining. “Avoid anything that would stain a shirt”, my dentist told me, which I did with due care (apart from the time I drank orange juice and was left with what looked like a neon glowstick in my gob. See below). Nonetheless, come every adjustment appointment they were looking a bit grubby. It probably didn’t help that I’m a filthy smoker, of course. (FYI – chewing gum is out when you have fixed braces, but there are loads of breath-freshening sprays that do the job in banishing faggy breath).
Finally, my lips took more of a battering than I’d anticipated, and keeping them moisturised and chap-free was a struggle. I bought a load of lipsalves and put them everywhere – the lounge, the kitchen, in all my bags and coat pockets – so there was always one to hand. I also got into the habit of slapping a load of this on before bed.
The braces are pretty tough and are designed to withstand a lot of force, but it’s not uncommon for brackets to ping off if they’re put under too much stress. So harder food (apples, beloved Toblerones), sticky stuff (toffee, caramel) and gritty snacks (popcorn, seeds) should be given a miss. I didn’t find this too much of a sacrifice, but the one thing that really bummed me out was turning down Nandos’ corn on the cob. I bloody love Nandos’ corn on the cob.
Did you feel like a dick wearing adult braces?
Nope, not really. Although the day I had them put on I went to Superdrug for supplies and the guy behind the counter was looking at the dental wax in my basket. He asked what it was for and I pointed to my mouth and he looked so embarrassed and apologetic. So I guess there is a bit of a stigma around it. Most people, I found, were pretty inquisitive about the process, and I heard “I’ve been thinking about doing the same” at least 20 times. The main issue I encountered was with bits of rogue food getting stuck in them, yapping away happily to people and not realising until later – a lot of people seemed reluctant to tell me I had whole lettuce leaves hanging out of my mouth (artistic license) for fear of offending me. But that’s where the shiny surface of smartphones comes in handy – it’s very easy to do a covert check.
I actually quite enjoyed flaunting my braces. They made me feel a bit unique and, like I said, empowered. (Plus they gave me a super pouty smile).
When did you decide to have them taken off?
There’s no obvious ‘end point’ with SMS. It’s pretty good at sorting out gaps and overcrowding, but it won’t change the shape of your teeth or do any major jaw reconstruction (for example, I still have an overbite, and I always will unless I opt to have my jaw broken and realigned – nope). They call it Six Month Smiles because that’s the average length of time it takes for patients to decide they’re happy with the results. I was pretty lucky that I had “malleable arches” (yay?), so my teeth moved quickly and I was done in less than five months, but for some it’s longer. Personally, I could’ve kept them on for a little longer to tweak one or two tiny areas, but it was coming up to Christmas and I didn’t want to go into the New Year with them on, so off they came.
Having them taken off is a bit more traumatic than having them put on (after all, they’re cemented to your teeth), but the payoff is that you’re going to have a lovely new smile at the end of it.
Is that it?
‘Fraid not. The reason my teeth were in such a mess was because I never wore my retainer the first time around, so they just shifted back to their original position. Teeth will do that, unfortunately. After the braces came off I had more gummy, gag-inducing moulds taken to create a single Invisalign brace, which I now use as a retainer, currently wearing it mostly full-time for four to six months, then only at night. It’s a bit of a faff, to be honest, but I know wearing it is important – when I go out in the evenings I tend to leave it at home and when I finally get around to putting it back in I can feel my teeth have already started shifting slightly.
I’ve also had a permanent, fixed retainer fitted (can’t get a camera in my mouth to take a picture, looks like this). At first I was a bit disheartened at the prospect of having yet more stuff in my mouth, but I’ve quickly gotten used to it, and it doesn’t cause anywhere near the same problems as the actual brace did (although one tooth did come unbonded the other day, which warranted a tedious trek back to the clinic – so that does happen). I’ll likely have this one on for around four to five years.
But I’m okay with that *beams*.