Today more than ever, Americans are obsessed with how their teeth look. Simply flip through a magazine or turn on your television and you’ll see that almost every person has straight white teeth. Braces are a rite of passage for most teens, but now more and more adults are heading to orthodontists to improve their teeth. Is the pursuit of the “picture perfect” smile simply about vanity, or is there more to it than meets the eye?  

Dr. Joanna Yu of Adult & Pediatric Orthodontics in Portland and Windham said that while straight teeth look great, they also provide a lot of health benefits to patients as well.

“A crooked bite can lead to uneven pressure on the jaw, causing unnecessary wear and tear to the muscles and tendons,” Yu said. “This can lead to pain or further complications down the road. Crowded teeth are much harder to clean and therefore more prone to diseases and decay. Beyond looks, when your bite lines up correctly and your teeth are evenly spaced, your mouth is healthier and it’s easier to keep clean.”

Dr. Yu uses two techniques for her patients, The Damon System and Invisalign. “Many people come in asking for Invisalign, and it is a great cosmetic option for older teens and adults needing minor to moderate adjustments,” she said. “It is a series of clear aligners you wear all day except when you eat meals and brush. I don’t recommend them for younger teens or children because since they are clear and removable, they are easily lost or often kids forget to wear them altogether. For them to work, you must to be diligent with them.”

The Damon System is Dr. Yu’s go-to for patients of all ages needing moderate or more advanced adjustments. These appliances are fitted much the same way as traditional metal braces, the key difference being that there are no elastics or metal ties. The result is less food and plaque gets trapped in the appliance, making your teeth easier to keep clean.

“Damon braces use a slide mechanism to hold the wire, which allows teeth to move more freely than traditional braces,” she said. “We have seen shorter treatment times and overall more comfortable patients since we began using them over a decade ago.”

Ultimately, every mouth is different, so every treatment should be designed specifically for your unique needs. Building trust with your orthodontist, asking questions when you have them and following their specific instructions will keep your treatment time on track and yield the best results possible. If you are worried affordability will be an obstacle between you and the smile of your dreams, keep in mind many orthodontists have options like payment plans or Care Credit, which provides short term financing so you can pay for your treatment out of pocket.

Whatever your reason for wanting to improve your smile, whether it’s your upcoming wedding, your high school reunion, or just wanting more confidence when you walk into a room, know that it is a wise lifelong investment not only in your self-confidence but in your overall health as well.