You got through all of high school without braces, but now you’re a full-blown adult and something about your teeth just doesn’t feel quite right. Fortunately, adult braces are pretty common these days: One in three people who go to an orthodontist in the U.S. is over 18, according to the American Association of Orthodontists. But how on earth do you know if you need braces, or if it’s just something your mouth can work out on its own?
There are certain signs to look out for when it comes to needing adult braces, says Eric Sorkow, the orthodontic lead at dental company Tend. Adult teeth can move and change over time, usually at a rate you can’t even detect with the naked eye. Along with the development of wisdom teeth, which can really rearrange a jaw (and cause some serious pain), those pearly whites can go through a lot of changes — even if you went through the fun of braces in your youth.
Keep reading to learn how to know if you need braces before booking an appointment. And, of course, remember it’s always a good idea to go to an accredited dentist or orthodontist with any concerns — because those teeth-straightening hacks on TikTok are not your best bet for a healthy set of chompers.
1. Teeth Crowding Together
If your teeth are beginning to look like the front row at an Ed Sheeran concert, you may need braces, says Sorkow. The crowding may mean they become increasingly hard to keep clean. “If you have stubborn stains around teeth that are crowded, it means your toothbrush and floss aren’t reaching where they should,” he tells Bustle. And that can increase your risk of future issues with teeth and gums, including plaque and gingivitis.
2. Problems With Tooth Spacing
Everybody’s had that stubborn bit of food they can’t get out — but Sorkow says that if you get food caught in hard-to-reach places of your mouth regularly, it indicates that your teeth could be growing together in unhelpful ways. This means they’re more prone to trapping plaque and bacteria, which raises the risk of cavities and generally makes your life very annoying when you’re always reaching for a toothpick to remove the last bit of your lunch.
3. Gum Recession
It’s not just something that happens to the economy. According to Sorkow, people who may need adult braces could experience new sensitivity around the gums that might indicate the first signs of gum recession. Just as teeth move throughout your life, the gums that protect them move too, and can begin to wear away or move down from your teeth in areas where they’re experiencing a lot of stress.
Receding gums can be caused by teeth pulling too hard on them, or by gum diseases as bacteria builds up between teeth. Both, Sorkow says, might be indications to your dentist that braces are the next stop.
4. Problems With Your Bite
Occlusion is the technical term for what happens when your top and bottom teeth meet (aka your bite), and Sorkow says that if they begin to not match up, you may need some braces to help. “You might experience repeated chipping or notice repeated wearing of the teeth,” he says. Maybe your bite’s started to become less effective, or various molars are beginning to hurt or get misaligned.
The top and bottom jaws need to work in harmony to chew foods, so if your ability to get through a particularly rare bit of steak or delicious aubergine is at risk, get yourself to a dentist as soon as possible for the sake of your oral health.
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Mythri, S. (2015). Etiology and occurrence of gingival recession - An epidemiological study. Indian Society of Periodontology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4753713/
Eric Sorkow, orthodontic lead at Tend