‘ Mouth jew­elry’ is latest trend for ag­ing baby boomers who are em­brac­ing what used to be an ado­les­cent or­deal

Vancouver Sun - - Westcoast News - BY DENISE RYAN

Amid- life suc­cess­fully ne­go­ti­ated was, at one time, all about trad­ing in and trad­ing up. De­cline was in­evitable but the pain could man­aged with a trip to the an­a­lyst’s couch, a zippy lit­tle sports car or a tro­phy wife.

Such em­bar­rass­ments are no longer nec­es­sary. Thanks to pop­u­lar re­al­ity shows such as Ext reme Makeove r , s e l f - im­prove­ment has be­come a spec­ta­tor sport and the mid- life cri­sis has been sup­planted by the “ mid- life up­grade.”

And in an ironic twist, the most em­bar­rass­ing of all ado­les­cent or­deals, braces, have be­come a proud rite- of- pas­sage for up­gradists as they move into mid­dle age — or, as some pre­fer to call it, “ life 2.”

“ Psy­chi­a­trists are out, and braces are in. That’s what a friend at my book club told me when I got my braces on,” says Rosanne Mo­ran, a Van­cou­ver com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ist who got “ banded” at the age of 45.

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Orthodon­tists, from 1994 to 2004, there was a 37- per- cent in­crease in adult pa­tients in the U. S. and Canada. Adults ac­count for a full 25 per cent of new pa­tients over­all.

Maple Ridge or­tho­don­tist Dr. Amanda Maplethorp says that th­ese days it’s not un­usual in some ur­ban prac­tices to see a ra­tio of “ up to 90 per cent adults to 10 per cent kids.”

Not only are adults crowd­ing orthodon­tists’ of­fices in record num­bers, they are show­ing off their “ mouth jew­elry,” track­ing their progress on blogs and trad­ing in­for­ma­tion on web­sites like Arch­wired. com.

De­spite the avail­abil­ity of dis­creet op­tions such as lin­gual braces, which run along the in­sides of teeth, and In­visalign, an al­most un­de­tectable sys­tem of clear plas­tic re­tain­ers, there are plenty of adults who like to show off this par­tic­u­lar self­im­prove­ment choice.

Psy­chol­o­gist Dr. Joyce Brothers is one of many celebri­ties who have had braces in their adult years — Tom Cruise, Venus Wil­liams and Cher are also on the list.

Brothers, who had braces along with full head­gear to cor­rect a se­vere over­bite that made her “ look like a bunny,” said in an in­ter­view from her New Jer­sey home that she is thrilled with the trend.

“ Peo­ple don’t down­grade braces any­more. I’ve seen so many women, beau­ti­fully dressed with a mouth full of metal. They are say­ing, ‘ I like to look my best.’”

Brothers be­lieves im­proved h e a l t h a n d a l o n g e r l i fe ex­pectancy plays into the trend, as well as our own ex­pec­ta­tions for con­tin­u­ing to life a full life as we age.

Main­tain­ing what we have had be­comes more im­por­tant than ever be­fore.

“ For older peo­ple now since we’re liv­ing such long sex­ual lives th­ese days,” said Brothers, “ it can be a won­der­ful thing.”

For those who may be wor­ried that the 12 to 24 months they’ll be wear­ing braces might harm their love lives, Brothers got straight to the point: “ Hav­ing braces didn’t harm my sex life at all.”

The de­sire for a higher qual­ity life is also in­flu­enc­ing the trend. “ Our teeth have to last longer,” said Dr. Maplethorp. “ Peo­ple don’t want to end up with den­tures. What was a given 30 or 40 years ago is no longer ac­cept­able.”

Bar­bara Mitchell, pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, who also had braces as an adult, says it’s not a stretch to see braces as a mark of hav­ing ar­rived at a cer­tain point of both per­sonal and fi­nan­cial ma­tu­rity.

Braces have fi­nally be­come a sta­tus sym­bol.

“ Th­ese pro­ce­dures cost a lot of money, so to some ex­tent it’s a sign of af­flu­ence and pres­tige,” she said. “ Mid- life women are more likely to be able to af­ford to buy th­ese pro­ce­dures — Bo­tox or braces — be­cause they have moved up in the work­force.”

Mitchell, who is 45, had braces in her early 40s. “ I came from a large fam­ily with a Bri­tish back­ground and grew up in a rural area. It just wasn’t some­thing my fam­ily could do but as a child I wanted them.”

Al­though Ugly Betty may be our most beloved brace- faced television char­ac­ter, Mitchell cites the in­flu­ence of ac­tresses who look younger than their years, such as the cast of

Des­per­ate House­wives,

as hav­ing more in­flu­ence than the so­called Ugly Betty ef­fect.

“ For women, look­ing young is a way to com­pete in the job and re­la­tion­ship mar­ket. With th­ese role mod­els, the stigma of get­ting pro­ce­dures or braces has di­min­ished. It al­most be­comes nor­ma­tive rather than de­viant.”

“ You do your nails, you go to the gym, you do your smile,” said Maplethorp who has been through two rounds of braces as an adult.

Dr. Barry Cut­ler, an or­tho­don­tist who prac­tises in both down­town Van­cou­ver and Co­quit­lam, said in an in­ter­view that the in­crease in “ banded” adults is “ part of the trend of self- aware­ness of the jog­ging and fit­ness gen­er­a­tion.”

With our ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, den­tal care has be­come big busi­ness — a n d n o t j u s t be­cause the “ Cal­i­for­nia smile” we see on celebri­ties has be­come our mea­sure of beauty.

“ Den­tal changes in the po­si­tion of the lower teeth some­times oc­cur with age. Teeth move for­ward mi­cro­scop­i­cally,” ex­plained Cut­ler. “ Hav­ing straight teeth makes it eas­ier to main­tain the health of your teeth and gums.”

Cut­ler, whose pa­tients range in age from seven to 70, also cred­its ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy that have cre­ated a “ faster, kin­der treat­ment.”

“ New ma­te­ri­als like ti­ta­nium wires and new types of braces that are more es­thet­i­cally ac­cept­able have helped. Treat­ment is more ef­fi­cient and less un­com­fort­able.

“ A very sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment in the year 2000 was the in­tro­duc­tion of In­visalign, a se­ries of clear plas­tic shells that are pro­vided to pa­tients and changed ev­ery two to three weeks.”

While In­visalign is not ap­pro­pri­ate for ev­ery case, Cut­ler said its high- profile ad­ver­tis­ing brings pa­tients into the of­fice who would not have oth­er­wise con­sid­ered braces.

“ Once they are in the of­fice, if they are not a suit­able can­di­date for In­visalign, we can of­fer them cos­met­i­cally or es­thet­i­cally ap­peal­ing al­ter­na­tives.”

Gone are the old- fash­ioned metal brack­ets that wrapped around the en­tire tooth, had to be ham­mered on and were painfully screwed tighter ev­ery two weeks.

For those who work in the pub­lic eye there are lin­gual braces al­though their down­side, Cut­ler said, is that treat­ment takes longer, can be un­com­fort­able and costs slightly more.

( An av­er­age treat­ment with reg­u­lar braces runs about $ 6,000.)

Low- vis­i­bil­ity ce­ramic braces worn with white wires are an­other pop­u­lar op­tion for adults.

Most peo­ple get the ba­sic — sim­ple tiny brack­ets af­fixed to the front of each tooth, fit­ted with a wire in the front, se­cured and em­bel­lished with a brightly coloured elas­tic “ tie.”

Colours can be changed at ev­ery visit, which adds to the ap­peal.

Mo­ran de­cided to pur­sue a mouth makeover when she turned 45 and started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing pain and click­ing in her jaw.

She also no­ticed that the space she had never liked be­tween her two front teeth was, hor­rors, get­ting big­ger as she got older. Her teeth had been slowly and sub­tly shift­ing as she aged.

Al­though she wanted braces as a child, she didn’t have them — money was the is­sue.

When her sis­ter, who is now dean of law at the Univer­sity of Toronto, got braces as an adult, Mo­ran was in­spired. And the time was right.

She didn’t have a wed­ding around the cor­ner, she was es­tab­lished in her ca­reer and had a job that of­fered ter­rific den­tal ben­e­fits.

“ I got full metal,” says Mo­ran with a touch of pride. “ Up­per and lower. Noth­ing pretty.”

To off­set the metal mouth, Mo­ran opted for coloured elas­tics, a fash­ion­able touch that has also rev­o­lu­tion­ized the ap­peal of braces.

The braces had the added ben­e­fit, she said, of shav­ing a few years off. “ The first thing my hus­band said was, ‘ You look like a teeny­bop­per.’ ”

Catherine Eely, who had an un­der­bite be­fore get­ting treat­ment, also started in her 40s.

“ Some­times you just wait long enough,” Eely said in an in­ter­view. “ The kids didn’t need them, we had the [ den­tal] ben­e­fits. My jaw would get sore if I chewed gum, I was self- con­scious.”

Eely was suf­fer­ing from some of the nor­mal prob­lems ag­ing brings about. “ I ground my teeth and I was wear­ing them out. As you age, there are se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions.”

The changes that come with age can shift teeth that were straight­ened decades be­fore, or make minute changes to nev­ertreated teeth that cause new prob­lems.

A l t h o u g h E e ly ’ s t h ree teenaged chil­dren laughed out loud when she ar­rived home with braces, and her treat­ment will take a rel­a­tively lengthy three years, she wouldn’t turn back.

“ It’s very in­con­ve­nient on pub night,” she said, “ there are some foods you can’t eat. But there’s an amaz­ing ca­ma­raderie with other adults that have braces.”

The great­est sur­prise, said Eely, is that strangers who have had braces, who re­gret not hav­ing had them or who are con­sid­er­ing tak­ing the plunge won’t hes­i­tate to approach her.

“ I say, ‘ Go for it,’ if they ask. I have more con­fi­dence and I feel way bet­ter. My only re­gret is that I didn’t do it sooner.”

Fo r o r t h o d o n t i s t s l i ke Maplethorp and Cut­ler, the growth in the adult pa­tient in­dus­try has an added ben­e­fit — their jobs have be­come more in­ter­est­ing.

“ Adults are 100 per cent there be­cause they want to be,” said Maplethorp. “ Plus they’re in­ter­est­ing to talk to.”

Cut­ler finds adult pa­tients slow him down a lit­tle, sim­ply be­cause they have such in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions. “ They are more de­mand­ing, there’s more com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which makes the process more en­joy­able.”

Cut­ler, who has been known to sur­prise his more con­ser­va­tive pa­tients with rain­bow­coloured ties in an ef­fort to help them loosen up and have fun with the process, finds treat­ing adults “ deeply grat­i­fy­ing.”

“ I’ve had ladies when I’ve re­moved their braces just burst into tears. I just melt when I see that.”


Roseanne Mo­ran and friend Ken Yasenchuk show off their ‘ adult’ braces.


Catherine Eely says her braces shave off a few years as well as cor­rect­ing an un­der­bite. She’s hold­ing the cast of her pre- treat­ment bite. ‘ You look like a teeny bop­per,’ her hus­band told her.

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