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Don’t call me brace face

Self-conscious lunches and a dodgy "photo face" – Hannah Banks-Walker thought her awkward train-track days were behind her. Until she got them as an adult

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By Hannah Banks-Walker on

The first time a boy tried to kiss me, I was surrounded by the frivolity of a fairground, with its flashing lights, the whirr of slightly dubious-looking rides and the cloying smell of candy floss. I know, it sounds like a scene from a Nicholas Sparks film. Except it all took place in a small town in Lincolnshire and I was mortified. In fact, I ran away. Rather than embrace (quite literally) this momentous, coming-of-age moment, I ran home, embarrassed tears staining my 13-year-old face. I had braces and, up until that moment, all they’d stopped me doing was eating Opal Fruits and drinking Coke. But this was new territory. Of course, it was all worth it in the end, when my jumbled, grown-too-fast teeth were straightened, neat and tidy. In fact, I thought I’d forgotten that feeling entirely, until I had braces fitted again as an adult, and then the lights of that fairground started flashing before my eyes. 

It was about a year ago when my braces went on for the second time. I had noticed my teeth moving from their post-teenage braces position for some time, and it was starting to make me feel self-conscious again. As a child, I was often teased about my two front teeth, which stuck out. When I went to see the dentist, she told me that while orthodontic treatment was a choice, if I didn’t address the problem my teeth might eventually move back to their original position. Quite literally shuddering at the thought, after much deliberation I decided to revisit my awkward teenage years through the medium of train tracks. 

I looked into all the options: Invisalign (the clear, removable braces), lingual braces (where the metal wire sits either behind your teeth or to the side, out of sight) and even clear train tracks. But in the end, my orthodontist suggested that bog-standard train tracks would be the most efficient for me, in terms of both cost and results. It’s by no means cheap; as a child, receiving free orthodontic treatment thanks to the NHS, I had never considered how fortunate I was and it’s certainly a privilege to be able to afford them as an adult. But I saved up and also opted for one of the payment plans to help spread the cost.

 I would happily go for dinner with friends or eat lunch with colleagues before suddenly remembering my braces and the paranoia would set in, as I desperately tried to check for unsightly debris caught between metal and tooth

When they first went on, I admit my vanity kicked in. I felt silly and assumed everyone would judge me, for either looking ridiculous or being vain enough to have them in the first place. But then, weirdly, I started noticing a lot of adults with them. And rather than ridicule, friends and colleagues were supportive, some even admitting that they’d also been considering adult braces. “Nearly all of my patients are adults,” explains Dr Steffen Decker, the UK’s leading provider of lingual braces at the Harley Street Dental Studio in London. "The most popular options, and the fastest growing, are undoubtedly the 'invisible' forms of treatment: aligners and lingual braces." In fact, according to a survey by the British Orthodontic Society carried out last year, more than 80 per cent of orthodontists had practices with half or more adult patients. Of those patients, 66 per cent were 26- to 40-year-olds and 22 per cent were aged 41 to 55. 

I had my bottom braces fitted first, on Halloween as it happens (no irony there). But it wasn’t until the full set went on a few months later that I started to feel like the self-conscious, teenage, non-kissing me again. I would happily go for dinner with friends or eat lunch with colleagues before suddenly remembering my braces and the paranoia would set in, as I desperately tried to check for unsightly debris caught between metal and tooth. Meeting new people also made me feel very aware of my teeth – and don’t even get me started on my new “photo face”. Again, I’d like to reiterate that the braces are my choice and are, if anything, a luxury I’m fortunate enough to have access to, but the everyday situations can be pretty inelegant.

Gemma Cairney, author, radio presenter and fellow brace-wearer, sympathises, having just had her braces off after a year: “The orthodontist said we could do more to reach my ‘ultimate smile’, but I didn’t want the insecurity of feeling like I had food caught in my train tracks every time I had dinner any more. I still have a bit of an ‘over bite’ as they call it, but my teeth are straighter, I feel a lot less goofy, which makes me feel good.”

Gemma with her braces on 

It’s no surprise that self-esteem and confidence are often tied up with our teeth. After all, they have long been associated with our psyche (both Freud and Jung produced theories for the recurring dream of teeth falling out). Plus, a smile is one of the most important non-verbal ways in which we communicate and it’s often the first thing people see. “A friend described it to me as 'Your dental health is your mental health,'" says Cairney. “Braces helped me realise how smiley I am. I love smiling at people (even before I had braces) and I do it all the time, without realising it. I think I took my smiles for granted before – I’m so happy they’re back.”

While I’ve just about got used to the practicalities of having braces again, I must say I am looking forward to the day they come off. But I’m so pleased I’ve done it. If anything, I would say that having braces as an adult is less awkward than during teenage years. You can, for example, make jokes at dinner parties about the “iron curtain” and everyone will laugh (you’re welcome). 

But also I’ve found that nobody really notices or cares. I recently spent an entire weekend with one of my oldest friends, only for her to suddenly exclaim, just as I was leaving, that she’d just spotted I had braces. Perhaps my friends aren’t particularly observant, but still, it just goes to show that braces feel a lot more intrusive than they look. Plus, if I can go through puberty, being a teenage girl and wearing braces, this time around feels like a breeze. I’ll just make sure that I wear my retainer, this time. 

Adult braces – what you need to know:

Where to get braces:

Speak to your regular dentist if you think you may want braces. If they're unable to carry out the treatment themselves, they will refer you to an orthodontist. 

What type of braces to have:

Depending on your teeth and what you need braces for, you'll be able to choose between "invisible" braces, like Invisalign and lingual braces, or fixed, metal braces. Time needed for treatment and cost varies accordingly, so speak to your orthodontist and ask them to explain all the options before you decide. 

What will braces cost:

Again, this varies according to the type of braces you have and how long you have them for. But according to the British Orthodontic Society, fees are usually around £2,000. "Invisible" forms of treatment tend to be more expensive – it's worth getting a few quotes before you commit, to ensure you're not paying over the odds.

How to look after braces:

Buy an orthodontic toothbrush, which has a very narrow head and allows you to clean under the wire and in the spaces between the brackets of your braces. Try to brush your teeth after every meal, if possible, and always use mouthwash. Teeth can be more prone to plaque, decay and gum disease during orthodontic treatment. 

Which food and drink to avoid:

Try not to eat anything sticky, chewy or that you have to bite into with your front teeth, and dentists recommend avoiding fizzy drinks entirely. Click here for a full list of foods to avoid

What results to expect from braces:

Teeth will become straighter and more aligned. The time it takes for this to happen will vary for each patient, but results can be transformative. After treatment, you’ll be given a retainer to wear at night. This can either be a removable brace or a fixed wire at the back of teeth, and will prevent your teeth from moving or shifting position. 


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