An adult’s guide to orthodontics

It has been nearly 8 months since I began my orthodontic treatment, otherwise known as “braces”. I am writing this post for other adults out there who have had an interest in braces. While I am still wearing my braces, my current belief is that this has been a good decision and I am happy to date that I went through with it. That being said, there is a LOT a person is not told when he or she signs on the dotted line.

First off, my orthodontists have been amazing and I highly recommend them. Dr. Lee and Woo have an amazing staff, answer all my questions, and use state of the art techniques and equipment.

I decided on ceramic brackets, which, with the wires that thread between brackets, ends up giving a look similar to having a retainer. The price was around five grand, with an estimate of 18-24 months for the course of the procedure. Insurance covers a small amount (around one thousand dollars), and flexible spending money can be used for the rest. I got braces because my bite was horrid and my teeth wore in the wrong way. I had been told by every dentist for years that I should get braces, and I finally had the financial means and the geographical stability to get them.

Now I will share the less than wonderful parts of my experience, the downside to braces that most adults would want to know. While the doctors were open about having some pain and possibly undergoing surgery to correct a misaligned jaw, there were unpleasant parts of the process that I never expected.

First, in order to prevent my top front teeth from hitting the brackets on my bottom front teeth, hard ceramic-like bumps were placed on my bottom molars. This made it so that my teeth (if you include the bumps as part of that) only made contact in two small places in my mouth. This made it incredibly hard to eat. These “speed bumps” as they were referred to were put in the same day as my braces (brackets and wire) were put on, so this was all a lot to get used to. I also had rubber band spacers put in between my top molars in order to prepare my mouth for….

The Palatial Expander:

palatial expander
(flattering pic, no?)

The palatial expander is a piece of hardware put into the top (usually) of the mouth in order to widen it. It can be used in place of surgery, even for adults who have the tops of their mouths fused (good reference here). But let me say, it is very unpleasant. Basically every night or every other night, you crank it open more. You literally move apart bone. But that is not the worst part. It also takes up a LOT of space in your mouth. I had this put in about a month into my braces. I was barely intelligible the week after the expander was installed, which was particularly inconvenient since I had a conference I was exhibiting at for work. Fun, fun! Plus, it is hard to eat and even breath sometimes; I wake up in the middle of the night because my breathing is off. The expander prevents your tongue from touching the top of your mouth, which keeps that part dry (my mouth did adjust) and really influences how you speak and eat. It is also a place where more food can get stuck, already an issue with braces; my housemate joked I could get a whole shrimp stuck up there… for three days! Even though I have had the expander for over six months now, my voice is still not completely normal or adjusted. So basically, the expander is horrible. However….

The palatial expander is in place of surgery, where they break your palate and then go about fixing your bite. I am not a fan of having surgery if you do not have to, so the palatial expander was a better option, warts and all.

I also had the option of having surgery to set my jaw back. My lower jaw grew too far out, leading to misaligned teeth and a very bad bite. I went to two surgeons, one who was ready to take my cash and grab the knife (fancy Palo Alto office, no less) and the other who was a lot more cautious. I decided against surgery, and my orthodontist agreed (after treatment had gone about six months) that is wasn’t a must. I was happy another surgical option was off the table.

The most recent new thing at the orthodontist was that they changed my braces wire to a thicker wire, in order to move the teeth more. The day after this switch, my teeth were more sore than they were the day after I first got braces. Ouch! Tylenol and some light meals did the trick, and my mouth adjusted pretty quickly.

I’m now set to have the palatial expander take off this week (yay!), with several more months of braces ahead. I can already see progress in my bite– I now understand how one’s rows of teeth are supposed to work and line up! So I am happy to date with my experience, though it has been unpleasant at times.

Oh, one last thing: appearances. I definitely felt weird about having braces at first. People still aren’t used to seeing adults in braces. But I definitely have gotten use to them, and smile full force now– except right after a meal 🙂 I do think I look younger, however, and it unfortunately is what it is.

If you have any questions about my experience, please ask!


*** Update on October 29, 2012***

I recently got asked some tips on products that make having braces a little easier.  I highly recommended Oral-B’s Superfloss (helps get plaque off the area that attaches to your teeth), and a Waterpik.  They make life a lot easier and leave your mouth feeling a ton cleaner 🙂

7 thoughts on “An adult’s guide to orthodontics

  1. Kathy M says:


    I am middle-aged and just got the expander in today. I am afraid of it. I have been unable to turn the key myself, so I am going in there once a week for them to turn it 3 times at one visit. They will do this each week until I have 18 turns done. Do you think it is safe to do the 3 turns at one time? I do not know who else to talk to about this and saw your site on the web.

    Thank you for your response. Kathy M

  2. astrodel says:

    Hi Kathy,

    If the orthodontist thinks it’s okay, it probably is, but that does sound like a lot at once. I will say that I thought turning it would be hard but I got the hang of it pretty quickly– you need GOOD lighting and it takes a minute, but it’s definitely possible to learn, even if it seems like a tiny little slot at first.

    I turned it once every other day, and could feel it– not super uncomfortable, but you can tell it’s moving teeth. Especially towards the end, it did NOT hurt, but that was once every other day. Keep practicing, or have a friend/ family member help. Let me know how it goes!


  3. jorge says:

    I want to wish everyone good fortune with their medical treatment, and encourage them to pay for a second opinion any time they have doubts about it. You must take care of yourself

  4. Julie Cegiel says:

    Hi, Just a quick query on the ceramic lumps on your teeth. I just got a brace fitted today and have also got these ceramic mounds on my teeth. With all the questioning and answers I never realised that I couldn’t actually chew with these. Do they stay ? do they wear down??

  5. astrodel says:

    Hi Julie,
    These stayed on long enough to move my bottom front teeth backward (I had an underbite) so that my top front teeth did not hit the braces on the bottom front teeth. Otherwise, the top teeth would have kept hitting the brackets on the bottom front teeth. I forget how long I had them on (more than a few months), but it was not the entire time I had braces– less than half the time, definitely. They were really frustrating 😦 They do not really grind down.

  6. Kristin says:

    I am 22 and about to get braces and the expander. Did the expander give you a gap in your front teeth? If so, for how long?

  7. astrodel says:


    I don’t remember a huge gap– maybe a little one, but nothing Lauren Hutton-esque. They would have brought it back together by the next appointment, so maybe a month. It really did more make room for my molars to properly fit in. Good luck!

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