ArchWired.com: Adults In Braces Want Encouragement, Not Insults

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Adults in dental braces often suffer a number of rude and clueless remarks from seemingly well-meaning friends, relatives, and co-workers. The readers of ArchWired.com's Metal Mouth Message Board share their stories, and offer advice on "adult braces etiquette."

She told me that I should just have my teeth pulled and wear dentures instead of going through the process of having braces and jaw surgery.

What do you say to a 40-year-old friend who just got braces on his teeth? If your first reaction was to stare and remark, "Why did you get braces at YOUR age?" go stand in the corner.

Emily Post may not have a chapter on Braces Etiquette, but the readers of ArchWired.com's Metal Mouth Message Board can give you a quick lesson. The site has more than 10,000 members worldwide. Some are getting braces for the first time as adults, and others are in braces a second time after their teeth shifted in adulthood. For some, braces are only part of a larger treatment that includes jaw surgery. There is even a segment of readers that are in braces simultaneously with their kids. They all rely on the ArchWired.com message board to commiserate and share advice -- and gripes. Their biggest complaint: fielding rude and clueless remarks from friends, relatives, and co-workers.

"Don't tell me that the gap between my front teeth gave me character," writes one reader.

"Don't tell me that I look like a 12-year-old," writes another.

"Don't insist that I'm being vain and wasting my money on braces," declares another reader.

In the past it may have been rare to see an adult in braces, but nowadays more than 30% of all orthodontic patients are adults, according to the American Association of Orthodontists. And while the average person may assume that the best way to fix a post-puberty smile is with the newer "invisible braces," that isn't always the case. "Those removable plastic trays do not work for everyone, especially adults with complications," says Lynn Schneider, founder of ArchWired.com. "For example, if a person's teeth do not meet properly, or if extractions are needed, traditional braces may be the best way to proceed," she says. Which leads to another good point about adult orthodontic treatment: don't assume that an adult has braces solely for vanity or cosmetic reasons. Several years ago, actor Tom Cruise got braces on his famous smile to help correct a functional problem: his teeth were not aligned properly and he was in danger of shattering some of his molars.

Schneider got braces at age 41 for a similar reason: she had an open bite and a lot of crowding, which was getting worse with age. "Throughout adulthood, dentists always suggested braces, but I was extremely hesitant," she says. She finally relented, and after three years in traditional braces, her teeth are now straight and the open bite is history. "I wish I'd done it sooner," she says. Shortly after the braces went on, Schneider created ArchWired.com and its sister retail website, DentaKit.com, as a way of reaching out to the adult orthodontic community. She is not surprised that the site's message board is so popular. "Most people are afraid of being humiliated by the unattractive stigma of braces," she says. "They're also not sure how to deal with the pain and discomfort. It helps to get advice from others who are going through it," she says. Another factor that enters into their decision is the expense. The average adult orthodontic treatment ranges from $3,000 to $6,000, and is not usually covered by insurance.

Most braced adults are in treatment 18 to 24 months, which is plenty of time to encounter a fair share of uncomfortable remarks. One ArchWired.com reader, who wears eyeglasses, recalls being told, "Have you seen that TV show? You know, the girl with braces and glasses....What is that called? Oh yeah, UGLY something." Another reader recounts a conversation with a rude relative, "She told me that I should just have my teeth pulled and wear dentures instead of going through the process of having braces and jaw surgery," she wrote.

"Asking why someone got braces is fine, because people are always curious," Schneider says. "But when the questions get too personal, or the remarks border on rude, an adult in braces will definitely take offense." What is appropriate to say? Here are some guidelines from the members of ArchWired.com's Metal Mouth Message Board:

Don't...

...ask how much longer it will be before they get their braces off
...stare at their mouth
...ask if it hurts (of course it does sometimes!)
...ask how much their braces cost
...ask why they didn't get them sooner, or in childhood
...ask if they can still get a date
...ask why they didn't get "invisible braces"
...say that they are too old for braces (there is no age limit)
...say that they should have gotten veneers, dentures, or invisible braces instead
...say that they are being vain, selfish, or wasting their money
...repeat your favorite braces horror story (horror stories are not ever helpful)
...say that there was nothing wrong with their teeth (obviously there was)
...say that they look like a child
...make stupid jokes at their expense (such as asking if their braces set off metal detectors)

Do...

...ask about their treatment progress
...discreetly tell them if they have food stuck in their braces
...offer praise if you notice their teeth looking better
...be supportive and positive
...remember that there are some foods they will not be able to eat
...understand that they must brush their teeth after every meal, even at the office
...ask them for advice if you or a loved one are planning to get braces
...remember, if you don't have something positive to say, it's better to keep your opinions and stories to yourself

So, what do you say to a 40-year-old friend who just got braces? How about this: "Congratulations on taking the plunge! I hope you get the smile you are hoping for!" Those are words that even Emily Post would approve.

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