The Ultimate Guide to Braces for Adults: Why You’re Never Too Old for Braces

So You Want to Improve Your Smile?

If you’ve ever thought you missed that window of time to have braces and attain the perfect smile, PacificWest is here to say, “Think again!” As experts in adult orthodontics in the Vancouver and Surrey area, we have been enhancing and helping patients of every age.

It might surprise you to know that over one-third of our patients are over the age of 18. So despite the myths you may have heard about adult braces, it is never too late to begin your journey to achieving a healthy, perfect smile.

Getting Braces As An Adult

What Are Dental Braces For?

When teeth are misaligned, they not only affect our smile aesthetically, but they can cause problematic dental conditions such as an uneven bite, jaw issues and even the health of our gums.

Dental braces are either fixed or removable devices that align and straighten your teeth to improve both aesthetics and function for overall oral health. Adult orthodontics is the most efficient way to treat underbite, overbite, open bite, overcrowding, gapping or other teeth alignment issues.

It is important to remember that our dental alignment changes over time. Chewing, pressure and jaw-grinding can cause shifting that may create issues as we age. So adult braces can be recommended later in life for various reasons beyond the aim for a perfect smile.

Am I Too Old For Braces?

The answer to this question is probably the biggest myth-buster out there. There is no limit to the age a person can be to have orthodontics as an adult.

Whether your regular dentist recommends adult orthodontics or you seek an orthodontist because you want to realign your teeth for a better smile, your orthodontist will inspect your teeth to make sure that you are a suitable candidate. They will ensure that you are on the best possible plan to achieve the results you are aiming for, whether that means using traditional braces or invisible aligners.

Treatment time rarely exceeds the 2 year mark as adult teeth can still be realigned. But the length of treatment can be slightly longer in comparison as adults have stopped growing and bone turnover rate is slower. There are some exceptional cases where only oral surgery can correct complex issues, but this is not the norm.

Types of Braces

For most people, the image of someone with braces conjures up memories of classic metal train tracks on teeth. But there have been remarkable advances in orthodontics in recent decades, providing patients with many options.

Traditional / Metal Braces

Metal braces consist of metal brackets bonded to the teeth with archwires attached to the brackets. The archwires are held in place by rubber bands put into place by your orthodontist. Braces provide a constant, subtle pressure that guides your teeth to the desired position. Metal braces are the most affordable option and can be customized with coloured rubber bands should the patient wish.

Ceramic Braces

Ceramic braces follow the same process as traditional braces but are usually slightly more expensive. The benefit of ceramic is that the brackets and wires closely match the tooth colour and are not as noticeable. A few minor drawbacks are that they are slightly larger than today’s metal counterparts. And they can stain depending on diet and brushing habits reducing their perceived discreteness.

Self-Ligating Braces

There is a subtle difference between self-ligating braces. While they work the same way as traditional metal braces, they do not use rubber bands to keep the archwire in place. Instead, they use a component called a door or clip to hold the wire in place, which is faster to adjust at the patient’s regular appointments.

Lingual Braces

Considered a holy grail for patients who want complete invisibility, lingual braces are applied behind the tooth inside the mouth. Undetectable to the observer, these are highly specialized braces and suitable for adults who do not want their appearances affected when wearing braces.

Most orthodontists must train separately to become proficient in offering this treatment option. At PacificWest, we are one of the few clinics to provide lingual braces to patients.

A drawback? Lingual braces can cause tongue irritation and temporarily create a lisp in the speech that should go away after a few days to a week. However, lingual braces remain an excellent option for adult orthodontics with patients with complex alignment needs and are also aesthetically demanding.

Invisalign & Clear Aligner Trays

Clear, removable braces have become increasingly popular since their arrival on the orthodontic scene in recent decades. And it isn’t hard to see why!

Invisalign is a wonderful option for adults who might be self-conscious about traditional braces. Invisalign is a clear plastic aligner tray worn by the patient, making it almost invisible to the untrained eye. Invisalign is also easily removable for easier eating, brushing and flossing.

The caveat is that you do indeed need to wear them at least 22 hours a day for them to be effective. Too many hours of the day left out of the mouth will only prolong or derail treatment which can be frustrating.

Some level of self-discipline is required for this option. One must avoid taking off your Invisalign aligner due to discomfort.

Braces vs Invisalign for Adults

When choosing an option in consultation with your orthodontist, it’s worth remembering a few key points.

  • How bothered are you by the appearance of traditional braces, and is a discreet appearance paramount?
  • How quickly do you want treatment to be completed?
  • Is cost a factor?

These questions are worth exploring if you are a candidate for choosing either option.

Traditional braces are more noticeable, but they generally produce more predictable results for the patient as they are literally on your teeth moving them 24/7. They are also more cost-effective for those on a budget. However, they are permanent and can be initially uncomfortable. They also require strict brushing and flossing routines to minimize plaque and keep gums healthy, and these routines will take extra time in your day.

You will require more frequent visits to have your braces adjusted and fine-tune the movements of your teeth, but they are a rock-solid option to achieve beautiful smile that had been tried and true for over 100 years!

Traditional Lingual braces are the only option that truely is invisible. It is also glued onto the teeth, so patient compliance, or the lack of, is not an issue. However, not all cases are suitable for lingual braces as the inside surface of the teeth are much smaller. Lingual braces are also the most costly braces option, and will require the most amount of time spent with the orthodontist at each appointment.

You should also be aware that certain foods when wearing traditional braces are off the menu! Unless you want to spend extra time in the chair repairing broken brackets and wires, all things chewy, sticky or that require a real ‘bite’ into a solid piece (like an apple or hefty burger) need to sit on the sidelines for a while. Some of those things can be cut into bite-sized pieces, but the sticky and chewy items often result in broken braces.

Invisalign, on the other hand, offers a superior aesthetic. Looks are often the deciding factor for adults looking for orthodontic treatment. Invisalign is more expensive than traditional braces but is a more convenient option as they are easily removable. Invisalign allows for less laborious dental hygiene routines and often better eating options.

However, clear aligners do not give you free rein to eat whatever you like! You should remember that your teeth are being gently guided for 90% if not more of the day. Your teeth are subtly looser during treatment than normal. So you will still want to avoid extra hard and crunchy foods that could potentially derail your progress, even if inadvertently.

You will also need to get used to removing your aligner discreetly while in public and be prepared to have an oral hygiene kit with you because you will need to brush your teeth before the aligner goes back in. And they do need to go back ASAP because they need to be in for a minimum of 20 – 22 hours per day to be successful.

Adult patients are more likely to be more consistent in wearing their removable aligners, which is a plus. The other bonus? Fewer appointments are required. The replacement aligners can be sent directly to your home for the necessary progress in treatment. Regular check-ups are needed, but timing can be more flexible. On the other hand, braces require your orthodontist to perform adjustments regularly, so frequent and timely appointments are much more critical.

Whichever type of braces you choose, follow your orthodontist’s instructions with care for the best result. All braces work, but it’s about choosing what is best for you if you have choices.

What To Expect With Braces As An Adult

Wondering what having braces is really like as an adult? Worried that you may not look professional? Still have hang-ups associated with your years growing up and the ‘stigma’ of braces? Read on to hear our reality check.

Life With Braces As An Adult

In our experience, more and more adults are opting for teeth straightening as an adult. Therefore, it isn’t as rare to see socially as it perhaps used to be. Don’t let anything come between you and your perfect smile. With all of the options now available, we can help you find the best solution that will meet your needs, budget, and aesthetics as much as possible.

Brushing and Flossing Are Not Optional

Whether you have traditional braces or aligners, you’ll need to brush after every meal. For metal and ceramic braces, this is essential to reduce plaque on the increased surface area in your mouth. The plaque will find plenty of places to hang around and bacteria to multiply. Brushing and flossing also help to avoid staining ceramic braces. If you have aligners, you must clean your teeth before you lock them into your tray. Traces of food will create a bacterial haven you do not want.

Brush and Floss For Longer

Wait, didn’t we discuss brushing and flossing? Well, yes. But it is important to ensure you aren’t just going through the motions. In addition to having an oral hygiene kit with you at all times, you will need to take the time required to ensure that you do not have food stuck between your teeth. This means a longer time at the sink. Use in dental floss designed for traditional braces that have a stiff end. This type of specialized floss makes it easier to slot the floss between the wire and your teeth. Interdental floss can also be effective. It can be time-consuming, but you do not want to end up with cavities and periodontal disease at the end of your treatment either! Finish your session with mouthwash with fluoride to get into the nooks and crannies.

Food Choices

We mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating. Sticky, chewy or hard and extra-crunchy foods, things that require a real bite, should be avoided with traditional braces. Failing to avoid these foods will cause brackets and wires to break, which means an inevitable trip to the orthodontist’s chair.

Life After Braces

The aftercare upon completion of treatment is just as important as the treatment itself. Many people don’t realize that orthodontic treatment does not end when the main event of realignment is finished.

Common questions about aftercare: What is the process for having your braces removed? What do you need to do to prepare? What happens once they’re off and how long is maintenance?

Preparing for Removal

Patients have little to do except to be patient until the time comes! Although you experience some mild and temporary discomfort during treatment, there is usually little to be concerned about for removal. The realignment and movement of teeth through the jaw bone is already complete, and now it is all about keeping things in place.

The Process

The first step is to remove the wire that binds all brackets together. This step is quick.

Next, the brackets must be removed from the teeth, whether you have traditional or lingual style brackets. Removal is usually done using dental pliers to gently bend the metal base, which will break the mechanical bond between the braces and the glue. Orthodontists typically begin on the top teeth and work their way through the lower jaw after. Patients will feel pressure, but it is not a painful process.

Once the brackets are removed, the adhesive glue must be removed so that no traces remain on the tooth enamel. This step is done using a polishing procedure that usually takes 5 to 10 minutes. There is typically no pain unless you have very sensitive teeth.

At this stage, your teeth are free! Your teeth are now perfectly positioned in their ideal locations. Before anything else happens, your orthodontist will get an impression or scan of your teeth to create your new best friend — the retainer.

Meet Your Retainer

Regardless of the method chosen to realign your smile, a retainer will be part of your post braces process.

The retainer is a crucial component of your overall treatment and final result. While it might feel fantastic to look in the mirror and see your ideal smile, it is essential to note that your jaw bone will still need time to heal and solidify after the gradual tooth movements are made. And this is not something any patient can rush or speed up.

To maintain this perfect positioning, you must wear a retainer all day and night except when eating for 3 – 6 months. Beyond the designated time frame directed by your orthodontist, this will then extend to nighttime only for another year. It is often encouraged to continue wearing them beyond that point as long as the patient feels comfortable to solidify the result and reduce continuing changes resulting from the aging process. So this is exceptionally important in orthodontics for adults.

If you are unable or unwilling to follow through with wearing the retainer, your teeth will likely shift and thereby undo the months and years of treatment that took so much time and investment. It is not worth risking. Any number of patients who failed to follow their braces aftercare will be able to tell you that their perfect smile changed quickly, which is quite an unfortunate result.

Post-Braces Care

Once your braces are off and you are waiting for your retainer, it is the ideal time and recommended to visit your regular dental clinic for a clean and polish with the hygienist. Continue to practice your regular and thorough brushing, and flossing routine is also essential.

Problems & Risks With Adults Getting Braces

Braces are ideal for correcting most dental issues for adults, but there are some issues that could crop up during treatment.

What Complications Can Happen With Braces in Adult Orthodontics?

The risk factor is low, but any treatment or elective procedure is not without potential complications or risks.

With the benefits outweighing the risks in mind, here are some rare issues that could potentially occur with orthodontic treatment.

Black Triangles

Perhaps one of the most common issues that comes up after completion of orthodontic treatment for adults is the occurrence of black triangles between teeth. A dental black triangle occurs when the space between two teeth, also known as an embrasure, is not completely filled by gum tissue. This creates a triangular gap between the teeth and gums.

The belief that black triangles are caused by orthodontic treatment, such as braces or Invisalign, is false. Orthodontic treatment doesn’t cause black triangles; it simply exposes them. When your teeth are aligned, receding gums or lack of gum tissue between the teeth can expose these black triangles. There are many different options that your dentist and orthodontist can offer that can reduce the appearance of black triangles after the orthodontic treatment is completed.

Tooth Decay and Periodontal Disease

Because brackets and wires on your teeth are so closely aligned with your gums, it is harder to clean properly. If the gum line is not properly cleaned every day, food particles can become trapped and cause harmful plaque to accumulate, allowing bacteria to flourish. Tooth decay and gum disease may also result. Patients with existing tooth decay and periodontal disease need to receive treatment from their family dentist to eliminate these infectious disease before starting orthodontic treatment. They also need to take extra care maintaining their oral hygiene, and have more frequent dental cleaning with their family dentists when wearing braces.

Prevention of gum disease and tooth decay is even more important for adults undergoing realignment with adult orthodontics. Ideally, we want to avoid adding dental issues during treatment to achieve a desirable outcome and not cause more issues to treat.

Allergic Reactions

It is possible to have an allergic reaction to the metal or the latex rubber in the elastics used to bind the wire to the metal or ceramic brackets in braces. Although rare, if such a situation occurs, there are both nickel and latex-free options. So there is no need to give up on your dream of the perfect smile!

Soft Tissue Injuries

During realignment with traditional or lingual braces, you may incur abrasions, sores and cankers on the inside of your mouth and lips. Usually, this is temporary until you develop calluses in those areas or aggravated contact. Until they develop, your orthodontist will usually offer numbing ointment or wax to cover the poking wires and reduce the irritation and discomfort.

On the other hand, patients who choose Invisalign do not need to worry about poking wires and brackets scratching their inner lip and gums.

Root Resorption

In rare cases, a patient’s roots may shorten in length during treatment with realignment. While the shortening can be minor for some, it can be much more substantial for others. Those who experience root resorption may have significant long-term instability of the affected teeth. The orthodontist will monitor any changes in root length by comparing x-rays throughout treatment to determine if you have resorption and treat accordingly.

Cavities and Decalcification

If a patient does not comply with excellent and consistent dental hygiene, then cavities may occur. Not only can this interfere with the look of your smile, but it can also affect your overall dental health. When food and plaque are not removed thoroughly, decalcification can occur, resulting in permanent white marks left on the teeth and cavity formation requiring fillings and additional dental work.

Orthodontic Treatment As An Adult

As adult bones have stopped growing, it is also essential to understand that your adult orthodontic treatment will take marginally longer than it would have if undertaken as an adolescent.

Depending on your oral health, any patient with a degree of periodontal (gum) disease may need to see a gum specialist alongside your orthodontist and family dentist. Gum disease can impact jaw bone loss, so it is essential to ensure that your jaw bone health is evaluated during the process to prevent further complications.

Adults also have more dental work done in the past. Bridges, crowns and root canal treatment all add complexity to your orthodontic treatment.

Regardless of some drawbacks, adults tend to be more disciplined when following the guidelines set by the orthodontist. This is important when going through the Invisalign treatment.

Are Braces Safe?

Braces are safe for the majority of people wishing to obtain orthodontic treatment. The braces manufacturers’ materials are quality controlled and safe to use.

Your orthodontist is responsible for assessing if your jaws and teeth have enough strength to pursue the process, as they must have enough strength to endure the pressure of realignment.

In addition, your orthodontist actively monitors your bite and structure to ensure that your teeth move to the right place. Even minor misalignment will cause issues, and this is where an orthodontist’s skill and expertise will shine.

Other Considerations

Beyond having the desire to achieve a perfect smile, there are a few other factors to consider before choosing to forge ahead with adult orthodontics.

Cost & Insurance Coverage

Depending on the complexity of the proposed realignment, the estimated length of time established by your orthodontist to achieve a desirable result and the type of braces chosen to undertake the realignment costs can vary considerably.

You can expect the average cost for getting braces for adults in Surrey and Vancouver to cost between $5,000 – $10,000. Treatment cost depends on the complexity and how far your teeth must move to get to their desired position.

If you have health insurance, it is advisable to check if you have a dental cover that might include orthodontic treatment. While not all policies cover orthodontic treatment, it is worth checking with your provider. Coverage can save you thousands of dollars and thus affect which type of braces you may choose.

It should also be worth noting that most orthodontic providers will have viable financing options available for patients. At PacificWest, we provide a monthly payment plan and other financing options.

Should My Child Wait? Having Braces as a Kid vs as an Adult

If your child has no severe dental health issues, there is no reason to wait for orthodontic treatment. Typically, most people get braces in their teenage years.

As an adult, there is no reason to hesitate to go for orthodontic treatment as long as you do not have any underlying issues that may complicate treatment, such as gum disease. If you have more severe dental conditions, they must be treated before successfully treating your misaligned smile.

It is never too late to jump on board for orthodontic treatment. If jaw bone density and gums are healthy, your perfect smile is within reach.

In Conclusion

At PacificWest, our orthodontists are specialists certified in orthodontics. We have been straightening teeth and creating beautiful smiles for adults in Surrey, BC, for over a decade. Conveniently located with ample parking, we can offer the highest level of patient care in addition to the latest technology available for a realignment journey like no other.

Contact us for a consultation to see what options are available for you and achieve that picture-perfect smile.

Age is not an issue when it comes to opting for braces. Adult orthodontics, whether traditional or Invisalign, are potentially your route to getting the result you have always dreamed of. It’s never too late!


Dr. Wang, DDS, MSc, FRCD(C)


Orthodontic specialist, founder of PacificWest Dental Group. Helping people get the perfect smile since 1994!

Dr. Kevin Lee, DMD, MSc, FRCD(C)

Specialist in Orthodontics, UBC alumni. Love helping patients get a beautiful smile. Part-time clinical instructor at UBC.

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