WHY I GOT BRACES IN MIDLIFE
as seen in Daily Mail Inspire
Beyonce’s been there, Gwen Stefani, Faye Dunaway and Cindy Crawford too. Here’s why, at 53, I chose to get braces and am smiling more than ever!
The smiling photo you see before you is, believe me, a worldwide exclusive! A lifelong phobia of my front teeth (thanks to a rogue filling in a front incisor that went disastrously wrong when young) has, for the past 25 years as a magazine beauty editor, caused me to wear a ‘downward smile’ frowning at the edges, never exposing my teeth and ensuring the early onset of super-ageing, Marionette ‘puppet’ lines at the sides of my mouth. Yet, here I am, spontaneously smiling with more confidence than I have had my entire adult life, and all thanks to braces! Why, they’re not even off yet, but ‘train-tracks’ make me look and feel younger. Almost teen; the very age we assume we ‘ought’ to wear them. Why only this week a group of beauty editor chums asked me ‘what I’d been ‘doing’ as I seemed to be getting younger’. I smiled a bit more.
And I’m not alone. Adult braces, past the age of 35, are ‘on trend’ and up by around 70% in the UK alone, with over a quarter of us having had some form of cosmetic dentistry in an industry now worth over £2bn. Deemed a more lasting and natural lift solution to injectables, a confident smile is seen as the ultimate anti-ager.
“The lower half of the face is the most ageing part,” says Dr Uchenna Okoye of London Smiling (my most favourite dentist – the only one able to get me into ‘the chair’ of late), “as loss of collagen and bone density that naturally lift and support our features rapidly diminishes with hormonal changes throughout a woman’s life.” Cover the bottom half of your face and chances are your face looks OK; cover the eyes and nose half and you can add on another 10-15 years as all you notice are the jowls. “I think of teeth like a picket fence falling in: straighten them up and it gives support and a younger, fresher appearance.”
Selfies, Instagram and video …
in my business these are pretty much a requirement to stay modern as a middle-aged journalist in today’s beauty industry. Ordinarily, I’m happy with my age, content with my lines – natural looks, makeup and skincare being much more my thing, until one day, one video too many (you can see what I mean here)! ‘What is that doorway that’s appeared between my front teeth?’ As if from nowhere, a tiny gap has become wide enough to fit my thumbnail and even manages to wedge the tip of my tongue! “But isn’t a gap cute and youthful?” asks a friend. On me, I see it as more ageing than any harsh vertical line etched on my face. A look only Lauren Hutton truly rocks, it’s not for me, so I book in with Uchenna and her Italian orthodontist Leone Giacosa, the Mario Prada in ortho work.
Not so fast Jo. First off is the hygienist, as care for the gums is paramount in order to be deemed ‘eligible’ for braces. At one point, I suspect I’ll never get them fitted as every appointment appeared to be another ‘deep clean’.
“With age, hormones, pregnancy and the menopause, women’s teeth are more prone to gum issues than men,” says Uchenna. “Everyone benefits from better brushing with an electric toothbrush, stop smoking, and vitamin D supplements to boost bone health, to help get gums back in order.”
Finally – and I do mean months …
my mouth and I were ready. Enter Leone, a platinum specialist orthodontist in lingual braces (hidden brackets) and cosmetic braces (my ceramic-style brackets as well as Invisalign, the clear popular alternative that just take more time and you ahve to take them out to eat and drink hot liquids). Lip balm smeared (buttermilk flavour I think), goggles on, and no anaesthetic required, this is my kind of dentistry. The entire process of pain-free poking,
Lip balm smeared (buttermilk flavour I think), goggles on, and no anaesthetic required, this is my kind of dentistry. The entire process of pain-free poking, prodding, and adhering 14 tiny blocks like superglue under a UV light, then tightening a wire between, took less time than a blowdry. Effortless. Now the work begins…
“Your teeth may be sore for a few weeks, and your lips and lining of the mouth scratched by the braces,” warns Leone. “Your speech may be affected and you may end up with a temporary lisp. Also eating may be a challenge. A definite NO to chewy foods like sticky gums, nougat and toffee, avoid hard nuts and crusty baguettes, and cut back on red wine, tea and coffee that may stain.”
Three minutes later, ordering my espresso,
…it’s alarming how many times I have to repeat my order to a confused barista. Not a single, solitary injection to blame, my ‘teeth’ suddenly seem overwhelming in size for my poor mouth; move over Esther Rantzen. My top lip curls, catches and scratches on each bracket with every syllable, and I officially have ‘the lisp’. My mobile rings, I pick up. “Ejow?” They hang up. It dawns on me that I may well be spending the next few days at home, adjusting – possibly weeping.
Once home, my husband much like me, fully under-estimated their very real appearance in the cold light of day, smiles and says, ‘Oh,’ long pause, ‘will they be there long?’ I won’t deny the first ‘careful’ kiss felt less than spontaneous. Curiously, my children, aged 22, 20 and 16, didn’t notice until the following day, partly because, by then, I had already adopted an awkward ‘hand over mouth’ pose from embarrassment. And these guys love me, how would I face business meetings? Beyond the initial howls of laughter and ‘why have you bothered at your age’, my son, who grew up with blocks attached to braces and still wears a retainer, encouragingly said, ‘good for you’. My girls independently exclaimed, ‘I want braces too!’
Day-by-day the deep-seated nerve pain per tooth that hurts incessantly, gradually wears away with time and paracetamol. The rubbing and cutting of the lining of my mouth caused by rough edges and exposed wires is the worst sensation, but a lump of clear wax that breaks off into tiny pieces when pressed onto these areas proves to be a true lifesaver, making the whole process more comfortable. I do, however, think I’ve inadvertently consumed a number of tiny pieces over the past few weeks confusing them for grains of rice.
Described as one of the best diets ever, dining out is a confidence zapper. I can chat and slowly chew food for 10-15 minutes, then spend the ensuing 20 picking out keenly wrapped quinoa and kale. In the privacy of my own home it looks gross; in public, I abstain rather than reveal my supper in all its splendour. A toothpick and a magnifying mirror at all times now replace flossing until I later try the Waterpik water flosser, from £46 at amazon.co.uk, that addictively deep cleans. If in doubt, I stick to soup!
Three months on,
…I’m smiling more than ever. A fine line on my upper lip has vanished as the brace gives a temporary ‘trout pout’ effect; but more importantly, the gap between my front teeth has completely closed while my twisted incisor stands straight for the first time ever. Sure some strangers stare while I speak, but I no longer care. I now smile upwards to reveal my teeth, and a brace is a sure sign that I care about the health of my teeth.
Sure some strangers still stare when I speak, but I no longer care. It’s all about ‘the health of my teeth – a trend that’s growing in the US as they look to Britain (previously the laughing stock of dentistry) for inspiration in the ‘less-is-more’ approach, backing away from fake veneers for the future. The average length of an orthodontic treatment is 12-18 months, but I should be done by June as my teeth have already reshaped so swiftly. I will however have to wear a retainer every night to stop them from shifting back afterwards. My husband says supportively, ‘you’ll be pleased in the end,’ but I am already.
And as for my son’s ‘why, at your age’? Well, why not? Our parents may have accepted lousy teeth as the classic sign of ageing, but more and more of my generation aren’t. After all, if you’ve got another 30 odd years on this planet, you might as well make sure you can smile your way through whatever life throws at you.
Damon ceramic braces at London Smiling cost around £5,000; Invisalign £3,000.
Dr Uchenna Okoye at London Smiling, 62A Goodge Street, London W1T 4NE, +44 844 824 8166