The Case For Adult Braces
The number of postpubescent men opting for orthodontia has grown 29 percent since 2010. Why would any right-minded, self-respecting grown-up spend the money and risk the embarrassment of aligning his teeth with wire when porcelain is quick and easy? Sometimes teeth are so bad they can't be corrected otherwise. "The greater the complications, like repositioning teeth rather than rotating them, the more likely fixed braces are needed," says Morris Poole, a Utah-based orthodontist. Is it worth it? Will Smith, an internist, talks about embracing the tween accessory on the cusp of middle age.
"In my mid-thirties, my dentist told me something frightening: My bite was so off that only five of my teeth touched, which could lead to lost bone mass—and lost teeth. If I didn't want to accept premature dentures, braces were the only solution. I resisted spending the time and money, but my wife spent two years pushing me. Finally, I gave in.
"In the weeks following, I stared at my smile in the mirror. Every day. It was unsettling. But within weeks, I could see the teeth moving—and then it became, strangely, kind of gratifying.
"My front teeth have porcelain brackets, so they're not that noticeable. Still, I'm eager to get them off. It's taken three years and a jaw surgery to get to where I am today—41 with a few months left to endure. There is one bright side to having braces: I can commiserate with my 12-year-old son over the difficulties of flossing."
Open Wide: The Basics of Cosmetic Dentistry
No, you don't want perfect, but you also don't want to look like you've never seen a dentist (or a toothbrush). Here, the most common fixes for a far-too-flawed smile.
What It Is: A thin, custom-made cover—like a white grill for the front of your teeth.
What It's For: Concealing discolored or oddly shaped teeth; or an instantaneous white smile.
What to Know: Veneers must be a minimum of 3/10ths of a millimeter thick—or thicker, depending on how white you go—so room in your mouth must be made by filing down healthy teeth. If you're a teeth-grinder, don't get them; they'll break.
What It Is: Resin that's applied to an existing tooth, like plaster on a wall.
What It's For: Repairing a chipped tooth, closing gaps between teeth, or covering up discoloration.
What to Know: Bonding isn't forever. After five to seven years, if the bond hasn't broken, it'll look discolored and you'll want it replaced anyway.
What It Is: The process of shaving down a misshapen or chipped tooth, the way an artist fine-tunes a sculpture.
What It's For: Fixing small imperfections that don't require heavy-duty work.
What to Know: "Sometimes this is done for cosmetic reasons, and sometimes it's a tactile thing," says Bakeman. "Smoothing and buffing it can make a tooth feel better." Caution: this strips away layers of enamel, which may leave teeth sensitive to heat, cold, or sugar.
What It Is: Chemical whiteners applied by a pro for about an hour, which the patient follows with 20 or fewer rounds of home treatment.
What It's For: Erasing the stains of a merlot—or cigarette—addiction.
What to Know: The take-home stuff your dentist offers is the same as the in-office product just at a lower dosage, so Bakeman suggests patients do it themselves. If your teeth are dark, though, don't expect miracles. "People with yellow/orange tones have a tendency to whiten faster. A gray tone can't move to a warmer tone, only lighter shades of gray," she says.
What It Is: A completely new tooth installed via a titanium root drilled into your jawbone.
What It's For: Replacing a severely damaged or missing tooth, in a more permanent (and elaborate) way than a bridge.
What to Know: Depending on the strength of your bone and gums, the process may require multiple oral surgeries—dragging the process on for four months to a year.
What It Is: A fake tooth attached to two crowns—literally creating a tooth bridge across a former gap.
What It's For: Saving you from looking like an NHL player.
What to Know: "If I were losing a tooth, I'd want an implant, not a bridge," says Bakeman. A bridge requires two crowns, which have a 6 percent chance of killing a tooth's root. An implant leaves adjacent teeth alone. Still, implants are lengthier, more complicated, and often more expensive.
What It Is: A hollow, porcelain tooth cemented over another tooth
What It's For: Replacing misshapen, discolored, rotten, broken, or weak teeth—without yanking the original.
What to Know: Your original tooth is ground down to a nub, atop which a temporary crown is placed. Wear that for a few weeks, then return to assess any unwanted changes, like the way you speak. "We'll pick up subtle things, like a slight little whistle," Bakeman says. The permanent crown will be made to fix the problem.
What It Is: Acid and an abrasive (such as ground-up volcanic rock) rubbed against stained teeth like an intense loofah scrub.
What It's For: Eliminating natural dark spots.
What to Know: If the spot is deeply embedded in the tooth—rather than just on the outer layer of the enamel—more work must be done. Typically dentists drill the spot away, then fill the hole with bonding. Sensitivity may follow.
I Replaced 10 Teeth
Bob Hogan of Orange, California, bought himself a whole new mouth:
"When I was 10, I broke my two front teeth in a bicycle accident. Every few years following, I had to have them re-bonded. By the time I was 30, they were discolored and making me self-conscious. That wasn't good for my job: I'm the general manager of a Porsche dealership. I'm in our TV commercials. I can't be uncomfortable smiling.
I thought I needed four teeth replaced (the two front ones, and the two next to them). The dentist pushed for more. I resisted. But we went through different images—squared, rounded, wider, narrower—then he digitally mocked up how he could make my teeth bigger, which sold it for me. I had small teeth, but am 6'4", 205-pounds, and big teeth fit my face better. So I signed up for three crowns and seven veneers to supplant the 10 teeth in my 'smile zone,' and handed over $20,000.
Everything was done in one, three-hour appointment—no anaesthesia, no gas, just novocaine. I lay there with my mouth open. I could hear grinding. I smelled burning. It seemed like my teeth were being reduced down to little pencils. And yet, there was zero pain from start to finish. When it was done, I looked in the mirror and had a whole new mouth.
It took about two months to get used to it; I had never thought about how my teeth and lips feel against each other. I talked funny for a bit. I had to stand in front of the mirror, re-learning how to look natural. But my buddies? They didn't notice anything. I didn't tell anyone I'd gotten surgery, and so when old friends saw me for the first time, they looked at me weird and said, 'Something's different about you.' It was the strangest thing—everyone said that. It made me smile."