They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and nothing is quite as attractive as a confident smile. But millions of adults have dental problems that weren't addressed during their childhood--something that can make them self-conscious and reluctant to smile. For this reason, more and more adults are now choosing to undergo orthodontic procedures. According to the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), 4.5 million people have braces in the United States, and 20 percent of them are adults.

Benefits of Orthodontics

Getting braces can have benefits beyond making your smile look more attractive. Crooked teeth can also have detrimental effects on dental health and tooth function, while teeth that are too close together may make proper brushing and flossing difficult. Over time, these problems can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, or other problems, according to the AAO.

Orthodontics are additionally used to correct a bad bite, also known as a malocclusion. According to the American Dental Association, bite problems typically occur when the upper and lower jaw don't come together properly, which can wear down teeth and cause difficulties chewing. This misalignment can also put stress on the jaw bone, which can cause pain.

Braces can eliminate these issues while giving you the smile that you've always wanted.

The Evolution of Braces

If you and your dentist have decided that you could benefit from orthodontic care, the good news is that braces are no longer the cumbersome, unattractive, or, in some cases, uncomfortable devices that they once were. Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to straighten teeth. Materials have evolved, allowing orthodontists to append braces directly to the teeth and expanding the types of brackets that they can use.

Clear or tooth-colored braces are popular among adults, due to their discreet, barely there appearance. However, they're typically about $500 more expensive than their more visible counterparts. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved an alternative to braces, Invisalign. This clear, removable device is specifically designed to straighten crooked teeth in adults or teens who have all of their second molars.

During Your Visit

At your initial consultation, your doctor will identify and evaluate your teeth to determine the precise problem: crooked teeth, crowding, misaligned bites, and so forth. From there, your dental professional will begin to develop a treatment plan. An oral exam and full head and mouth X-rays are commonly used to determine the severity of the problem and are usually done during this initial visit.

During that first visit, the FDA recommends discussing the following points with your orthodontist:

  • the reason that treatment is needed;
  • the best time for starting treatment;
  • the treatment approach that will be used;
  • the length of treatment;
  • the expected appearance when treatment is completed;
  • the success rate with other patients;
  • the pros and cons of treatment; and
  • the treatment cost and payment plan.

If it is decided that braces are the best treatment method, it is important to keep in mind that certain materials are more ideal than others, depending on your specific needs.

Time and Cost

Braces are typically worn for 18 to 30 months, depending on the complexity of the problems and the type of care needed, according to the AAO.

Orthodontic care can be costly, ranging from $2,000 to $4,000. If you're interested in braces or other cosmetic dentistry procedures, you should know that some companies, such as CapitalOne, offer financing specifically for elective procedures.