Brace yourself for a real mouthful

Adults are enduring the railway track look to straighten their teeth, Anna Maxted reports

FOR MANY people, wearing a dental brace was a misery of adolescence. As if acne wasn't enough of a setback, we were expected to attract the opposite sex with our mouths full of scrap metal. While we fantasised of drowning our orthodonist in a barrel of pink, foul-tasting, quick-set material, our parents told us how lucky we were. They never had this opportunity and now it was too late for their teeth. Well, they wouldn't get away with that line nowadays. In the past 15 years the number of adults wearing "train-track" braces has more than doubled.

Hilary Reade, 55, is happy to be sporting a full-metal bracket. She says: "All my life I have been extremely conscious of how ugly my teeth are. I never showed my teeth in photographs. From when I was a teenager I learned to smile with my lips closed. When your teeth are extremely crooked you lose confidence."

She assumed she was doomed to a life of grimacing until, 18 months ago, she visited a new dentist for a check-up. "I was saying how fed up I was and that I wished I could have had some treatment." To her surprise, he suggested she book a consultation with an orthodontist.

"The first time my husband came with me for moral support," says Mrs Reade. "The orthodontist said I would have to have a fixed appliance, and would I feel embarrassed because it was more often for teenagers?

"It didn't worry me at all. I thought, I may as well get on with it and have it done properly. I run a playgroup, so I'm in contact with children and parents. The children have never mentioned my teeth and as for the parents, they are extremely interested to know how I am getting on. I have never had anyone saying, 'Good heavens, fancy having that done at your age.' "

Mrs Reade is in good company. According to records of the Dental Practice Board for England and Wales, in the year ending March 1994, around 10,000 adults completed courses of appliance treatment. The DPB concludes: "As a course of orthodontic treatment lasts on average about two years it can be estimated that around 20,000 adults at one time are undergoing active orthodontic treatment." These figures only relate to NHS patients, who, says Chris Kettler, secretary of the British Orthodontists Society, make up a small minority of adult brace-wearers ,as the vast majority prefer to go private.

Mr Kettler explains: "If you can get it done on the NHS, you pay the maximum charge of pounds 300, but I think it would be very hard to find a dentist who would do it for you, partly because adults prefer to have so-called 'aesthetic brackets' - ceramic brackets - which are clear and tooth-coloured and not stainless steel. They are much more expensive to provide and more expensive to use, because they tend to make the treatment take longer. So no one will make these available on the NHS, because you can't charge extra."

He also points out that when patients fork out private fees of approximately pounds 2,000, they are far more likely to remain committed to the treatment, which, with frequent orthodontic visits and a ban on certain foods, demands dedication.

Rebecca Gould, 27, isn't exactly overjoyed with her fixed brace, but the Holy Grail of straight, evenly spaced teeth has kept her going.

She says, "I've always hated my wonky teeth, but I also hate dentists, and as a teenager I point-blank refused to see an orthodontist. Now I've just about managed to overcome my fear, hence the iron jaw."

This is a familiar story. According to Mr Kettler, a fair number of young adults now opt for train-track treatment, whereas 15 years ago they were "very, very few. If they hadn't had it done as children, they were likely to leave it."

Improved standards of dental health and a sharper awareness of personal appearance are obvious reasons for swelling numbers of adult brace-wearers. A less obvious reason, Mr Kettler says, is the financial acumen of North American orthodontists: "In the 1960s most found themselves short of work because there had been a drop in the birth rate about 12 years previously and there were far fewer child patients, so they pushed it at adults quite hard. I'm sure some of that has come across to Britain."

But the zeitgeist and pushy dentists take joint second place to health and vanity. Mr. Kettler says: "I don't think braces are a fashion statement. People are not doing it because it's the done thing. They are doing it because they want a result."

Consequently, when the perfect smile of Cindy Crawford was briefly wired up with stainless steel to advertise the glamorising qualities of a brown, sugar-laden soft drink, the mature brace-wearers of Britain were not magically transformed into fashion victims. As Mrs Reade says: "A fixed brace looks extremely unsightly," and no amount of metallic supermodel grinning will alter this fact. Yet the stigma of resembling Jaws from the James Bond Movies when you're old enough to remember Sean Connery with hair does not seem to be an issue. Mr Kettler says: "Some people are concerned that they'll look odd, but because more people do it, it's entirely acceptable."

The experience of Paul Bamberough, a 37-year-old secondary school teacher, bears this out. He suffered a fixed brace to prevent his teeth from becoming distorted, and is now wearing a "single line" retainer brace to complete the job. Given his occupation, one would assume that a brace would render him fair game for mickey-taking, but no. He says gratefully: "The younger people have been curious but not really much more than that."

Suggested Topics
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

    The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

    £26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

    The Jenrick Group: Project Engineer

    £33000 - £35000 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Project E...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

    £35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'