Age Limits for Braces: How Young & How Old?

Age Limits for Braces: How Young & How Old?
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Age Limits for Braces: How Young & How Old?Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Teeth in Childhood
  2. Teeth as You Age
  3. How Old Is Too Old
  4. Aligners Fitting In
  5. What Adults Should Know Before Getting Braces
  6. Differences in Adult Treatment
  7. References

Teeth stay with us throughout our lives. We get our first set when we're tiny, and they should remain with us until we're old. Anyone — at any age — might feel like their teeth should be a little straighter or arched. But there are age limits for braces.

In general, orthodontists recommend that people see the orthodontist at age 7 for their first appointment. This is generally a screening appointment to look for jaw problems or tooth eruption problems. Many times these issues are easier to address before all the permanent teeth come in. However for most people, braces will begin when all the permanent teeth have come in which is about 13 years old.

While there's no official upper limit for braces, your oral health can decline with age. If you're facing some common challenges, such as poor gum health, you might not be healthy enough for braces.

Let's dive into the details about how your teeth change throughout your life, and we'll end with more specifics about the age limits for braces.

Your Teeth in Childhood

We're not born with teeth filling up our mouths. Babies get their nourishment through suckling, and teeth would interfere with that process. But as we age, we develop two sets of teeth.

Our two sets of teeth include:

  • Baby teeth. Young children have 20 teeth, 10 up top and 10 below. The roots dissolve, and they become loose within the mouth and eventually fall away.
  • Adult teeth. By age 13, most people have 28 teeth. These are the teeth that should stay with us throughout the rest of life.

Between ages 17 and 21, some of us develop yet another set of teeth. This last set of four molars sit far back in the mouth. These so-called wisdom teeth aren't present for everyone, and they're not typically considered part of our set of permanent or adult teeth.

Each tooth type does something a little different.

  • Incisors sit at the front of your mouth, and they chop your food into tiny chunks.
  • Canines sit next to your incisors, and they help to break apart meats and other chewy foods.
  • Premolars sit beside your canines, and they grind and crush food.
  • Molars are located at the back of your mouth, and they grind up food even more so it's safe to swallow.

You need all of your teeth to eat food safely without choking or gagging. And they all work together, in perfect unison. They should all be aligned too, so nothing gets caught between them with each bite.

Changes to Your Teeth As You Age

Your Teeth as You Age

You're only given one set of permanent teeth (hence the name). In a perfect world, they'd stay in your mouth for the rest of your life. But health issues are common as we add more candles to our birthday cakes.

As you age, you might deal with:

  • Nerve changes. We rely on sensory information to tell us if we're putting our teeth at risk. But those fibers get smaller as we grow older, and that means we could miss out on cues that we're harming our teeth. Chips and cracks could form as a result.
  • Receding gums. Bacteria, dry mouth, and medications can all interconnect and attack the tissues around your teeth. When that happens, your smile might feel wobbly and unstable. You may even lose a tooth or two.
  • Underlying conditions. Your risk of problems like oral cancer increases with age.

Some people sail into their senior years with a mouth filled with perfectly healthy teeth. But it's clear that you will face mounting challenges to your oral health as the years pass.

In most cases, you must have all of your permanent teeth to get braces, and you must have good oral health to get through treatment.
Things to consider before getting adult braces

How Old Is Too Old?

There is no set upper limit for braces. Anyone with permanent teeth in place can sign up for smile-straightening procedures.

But health issues can keep orthodontists from working on your smile. You might face rejection if you are:

  • Missing many teeth. An underlying condition that causes tooth loss should be addressed before you start therapy with braces. Sometimes, it's easier for older adults to move on to dentures or bridges instead.
  • Living with advanced gum disease. Infections and other transient gum problems can be addressed. But if your gums peel away from your teeth, the damage can be permanent. Your doctor may not have enough healthy tissue to move you through treatment with braces.
  • Treating an underlying condition. Some health problems like diabetes don't impact your teeth directly. But they can increase your risk of complications, including problems caused by open sores and bleeding. If your health isn't ideal, your doctor may suggest that you get better before you try braces.

Plenty of older people get braces. Many of them are repeaters. They had braces as younger people, and they need a touchup to pull their teeth back into the right position.

But if your health is not ideal, or you're facing another underlying condition, braces might not be right for you.

How Do Aligners Fit In?

If braces aren't right for you, aligners might be a better choice. But you'll face many of the same age limitation issues.

Aligner companies, just like those that deal with braces, will want all of your permanent teeth in place before they start work. And if you're an older adult, aligner companies will want to ensure that you're in good health before treatment starts.

Byte works hard to remove barriers to treatment. But people should be at least 14 years old before treatment starts. You'll also be asked questions about your health to ensure treatment is right for you.

Your assessment can be done via telemedicine, so you don't have to leave your house. We'd love to work with you. Get started today.

What Adults Should Know Before Getting Braces

Even if you had braces as a child, your teeth can shift over your life and lead to dental misalignments.

This problem not only gives you a crooked smile, but it can also result in underlying dental problems like gum disease, tooth cracking or chipping, or even tooth decay. Misaligned teeth might make you embarrassed to smile in photos, but more importantly than that, they can harm your oral health.

Fortunately, orthodontics like braces can improve your smile regardless of age. Although orthodontics treatment is simpler in children or adolescents, whose jaws and teeth are still growing, dentists can still realign your teeth in adulthood.

Differences in Adult Orthodontic Treatment

There are some differences in orthodontics treatment in adults compared to children. Here are the major points to consider:

Time
Since adult teeth are permanent, and adult jaws and facial structures have finished growing and changing, orthodontic treatment with braces, retainers, or other devices can take longer to work. If you have underlying oral health issues, these will need to be resolved before you can get braces, which can add some time to the overall alignment process.
Cost

Dental insurance covers braces for children, but it rarely covers braces for adults. Braces are more than cosmetic for many children who need them, but they are considered cosmetic changes for adults. If you have serious dental health issues, your orthodontist might be able to argue that your health relies on getting braces or undergoing related orthodontics treatment, but this is rare.

Fortunately, many orthodontists have payment options and plans, so you can get the treatment you want. Additionally, more at-home options like mail-order clear aligners are improving access to inexpensive, effective orthodontics treatment.

Dental Issues
Children can have cavities or other issues with their teeth, but adults are more likely to have missing teeth, implants, sensitive or damaged teeth, habits like smoking, or other issues that can make orthodontics more complicated. While orthodontists can overcome these issues, it might change which appliances they recommend to align your smile.
Better Orthodontics

Not everything about adult braces is complicated. In fact, there is some good news! Many adults had large metal bracket braces when they were children and are not looking forward to reliving that experience. However, advances in orthodontics have led to numerous options for adult braces that are faster, more effective, and harder to see.

One of the most popular options is clear plastic aligners, which are nearly invisible. Other options include lingual braces (on the back of the teeth) or ceramic braces (which are white to match your tooth color).

If your dentist recommends braces or if you simply want a smile you love, you can get a referral to an orthodontist and discuss options for the best orthodontic appliances to suit your needs. You can also investigate at-home aligners. Most people are great candidates for clear aligners, so more adults are getting important orthodontic help without a mouth full of metal brackets.

References

Tooth Eruption: The Permanent Teeth. (January 2006). American Dental Association.

Eruption Charts. American Dental Association.

Everything You Need to Know About Teeth. (May 2020). NHS Health Scotland.

Aging and Dental Health. American Dental Association.

The Aging Mouth and How to Keep It Younger. (January 2020). Harvard Medical School.

Aging Changes in Teeth and Gums. (May 2018). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Perception of Orthodontic Treatment Need Among Swedish Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. (December 2016). Acta Odontologica Scandinavica.

Adult Orthodontics—A Review. (October 1994). British Journal of Orthodontics.

Adult Orthodontics Versus Adolescent Orthodontics: An Overview. (May 2010). Journal of Oral Health and Community Dentistry.

Am I Too Old for Orthodontic Treatment? (November 2017). American Association of Orthodontists (AAO).

Adult Braces: Everything You Need to Know. (June 2021). Forbes.

How Is Adult Treatment Different? American Association of Orthodontists (AAO).

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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