Braces are not just for the young. Adults, including the elderly, can wear them too.

While it is often thought that braces are the domain of the young, the reality is that no one is too old for them. For Dr Elaine Tan, Consultant, Department of Orthodontics, National Dental Centre Singapore, a member of the SingHealth group,​ her oldest patient was in her 60s. “The only condition is that they have healthy gums a​​nd teeth. This means there should be little or no bleeding during brushing or flossing, and teeth should not be overly shaky or have active decay.”

Braces are worn to bring a person’s teeth and jaw into a harmonious position with the face. This may improve the appearance as well as dental function, as misaligned teeth are difficult to clean.

Dr Tan said that adults may need or want braces for the following reasons:

To overcome crowding: This can occur when teeth overlap and are not in a straight row, or when a relapse occurs and teeth return to their original positions from when before braces were fitted.

To replace missing teeth and improve space or bite: When an adult loses a tooth, the adjacent teeth or opposing teeth start to drift and may compromise the space or bite needed to replace the missing tooth.

To close gaps: Gaps can occur in adults when teeth start to drift apart due to severe gum disease or previous tooth extractions. Braces in adults are used to shift teeth and close gaps.

Before and after jaw surgery: Patients who undergo corrective jaw surgery (orthognathic surgery) may need braces before and after their operations. Such surgery is done to correct dental and jaw abnormalities such as a gummy smile or protruding lower jaw.

To deal with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA): Adults with OSA may need brace devices or braces to reposition their jaws in order to help clear their airways during sleep.

Dr Tan recommends that patients consult orthodontists for advice on braces as they are specialists.

Sometimes, teeth must be removed before braces can be fitted. “However, in adult braces treatment, extractions are usually avoided if possible, so as to maintain the facial profile,” said Dr Tan.

It takes one to two months to adjust to braces. A soft diet might be necessary for the first few weeks.

On average, adults have to wear braces for up to three years – about six months to a year longer than teenagers, because their bones are more dense and their teeth take a longer time to move in response to treatment. For those with previous gum disease, the orthodontist will adjust the tightness of the brace accordingly to prevent further damage to the teeth and gums.

Patients need to maintain good oral hygiene, follow all instructions from their orthodontist, and keep their regular appointments with their orthodontist to get the best results.

When the braces are finally removed, patients will have to wear retainers. These are customised appliances that hold teeth in their new positions. Patients are advised to wear their retainers for as long as they can if they want their teeth to be straight, as teeth move throughout a person’s life.

Read on to find out more about​ the types of braces available.​

Ref: Q15