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What It’s Really Like to Have Braces Again in Your 30s

If you could go back in time and fix one mistake, what would it be? Right now, for me, it would probably be wearing my retainers. If you’re thinking that might seem like a waste of a magical wish, you’ve never had to deal with wearing braces twice. 

To be fair, this time around I’m wearing clear aligners, specifically Candid, instead of the traditional metal braces I wore in high school. Now you might be wondering why this is my second time. After having braces for more than half of school, I followed the rules and wore my retainers every single night and took extra care with my teeth. But a few years out of college, I had root canal that required me to get a crown on the tooth—which meant that my retainers no longer fit. So instead of going to the dentist to get new ones, I just stopped wearing them. I figured almost 10 years of keeping my teeth in place mean that they would be there for good. BIG mistake.

My teeth, especially the bottom ones, started shifting ever so slowly, which is apparently exactly what happens when you stop wearing retainers. A few years later, they were starting to crowd again, and my dentist told me it was affecting my bite and that I should get aligners. So I procrastinated some more, and here I am again, with braces in my 30s. Turns out I’m not alone. In fact, 37% of all Candid patients wore braces in the past. “There is always that force trying to pull the tooth back to where it started or erupted in the mouth; it’s an ongoing adventure,” explains Dr. Lynn Hurst, Chief Clinical Officer and founding member of Candid. “I tell my patients they have to use retainers until they die or I die. Retention is forever.”

If you’ve been wondering about getting clear aligners, some things are just like having braces, and others aren’t at all. The good news is Candid does a great job of creating near-invisible aligners, which makes them pretty hard for people to detect. Plus, unlike traditional braces, you get used to them pretty quickly, so you won’t have trouble talking or anything like that.

Surprisingly, the mechanics of aligners and metal braces work the same way. “Clear aligners work exactly like braces in that they move teeth,” Hurst says. “We move teeth via biomechanics and that’s what we have done for over a century with brackets and wires and bands. The biggest misconception about braces is patients think the braces move their teeth, but they don’t do anything but serve as a handle for the wires—wires are the energy source for moving the teeth. In clear aligners the tooth is the brace or the handle, so what I’m doing is putting clear wire over the teeth to apply the forces we need to move the teeth. Patients think clear aligners work totally different, but it’s exactly the same forces.”

Another way that aligners win is that they are actually a lot less painful than metal braces—trust me on that one. Whenever my braces were adjusted it felt like my head was going to explode for days. For my Candid plan, I have to change my aligners every two weeks. There’s some discomfort the first day or two after a new set, but nothing compared to the dreaded braces adjustments.

“It’s much less torture,” Hurst says. “When I was a young orthodontist, we had to put bands on the tooth; it’s evolved tremendously over the years.” The best part of clear aligners is that it’s more precise and controlled, so they only move the teeth they need do—not all of them, as with braces. In fact, clear aligners have advanced so much that you can now treat every case with them. Hurst hasn’t put traditional braces on a patient since 2015.

But back to what it’s like having braces in your 30s. The biggest challenge is having to constantly brush my teeth—they’ve never been so clean in my entire life. Although Candid is different from most other aligners because they are designed for patients to eat and drink with them in, I personally feel funny chowing down with them. Beverages are fine, but I think it’s more comfortable to chew without them. Lucky for me, they’re designed so that red wine won’t discolor them. But the bad part is when you’re eating out, it can be pretty awkward to run away to a bathroom at a restaurant as soon as food comes to remove the aligners. Or if you have had enough said red wine and are dining with good friends, you can “discreetly” try to take them out under a napkin. Yep, it’s as awkward as that sounds. Speaking of awkward, I’ve also had to get used to carrying around a little dental fun pack with toothpaste, a case for the aligners, and other accoutrements. Brushing my teeth in the office bathroom after lunch is another undesirable situation (or any public bathroom, really), but like I said, at least my teeth are clean. Plus, it’s still less embarrassing than having food stuck in your aligners, which is a way I humiliated myself on a regular basis back when I had braces.

Bottom line: Having aligners in your 30s can be a pain—literally and figuratively—but it doesn’t come close to having braces in high school. Also, Candid includes their whitening solution that you wear inside the aligners, so you’re straightening and whitening your teeth simultaneously. In other words, it’s still worth it. And this time I will never, ever stop wearing my retainers.

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