For many kids who grew up in the late-90’s and early-2000’s, the 2-3 years we spent wearing braces is a period of awkwardness, headgear and agonising over the colour of our elastics (just me?) that we would rather forget. But for every teen who complained desperately about their braces, there was a teen who desperately wanted straight teeth, but whether due to location, budget or other factors, didn’t have the opportunity.
Your teeth and your smile can play a huge part in your overall confidence. If you are or have ever been insecure about your teeth, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Just think about the sheer panic you feel in one of those dreams where your teeth are falling out (again, just me?). Having a confident smile can change the way you move through the world.
I had braces myself as a teen, and although my teeth were perfectly straight when they came off, over time they have shifted and re-shifted and now that I’m in my 30’s they’re not exactly a mess, but not exactly straight either. Still, nothing that I’m too insecure about. A few months ago, you would not have been able to say the same for my fiancé Keenan.
Growing up, braces just weren’t an option for Keenan. And then he graduated from ad school and started a career and the idea of being a braces-wearing adult for 2 or 3 years just didn’t seem very appealing. That was until he heard how far modern orthodontics has come!
Cape Town dentist Dr JJ Serfontein has amassed somewhat of a cult following and celebrity clientele, thanks to his ultra-modern, state-of-the-art techniques (he’s not too bad on the eye either!) and his ability to transform smiles. Have a look at his Smile Gallery to see what I mean!
An introduction to Dr JJ Serfontein
Dr JJ has made a name for himself not only in South Africa, but around the world, thanks to his use of the most innovative and optimal dentistry solutions available today. He’s always learning and researching international dentistry trends, cutting edge technological improvements and cosmetic dental practices, travelling extensively to attend conferences around the world.
At his practice in Cape Town, JJ specialises in adult orthodontic options, from braces to Invisalign. Everyone’s teeth and budgets are different, so Dr JJ gives each patient different options, based on which treatment they’re a better candidate for.
My fiancé got his braces at age 30
On New Year’s Day of 2019, Keenan told me for the first time that his teeth were a source of insecurity for him, and that his New Year’s resolution was to investigate orthodontic options. Although his top teeth weren’t really that crooked, his bottom teeth made him feel insecure when was talking. I knew just who to reach out to, and made an appointment with Dr JJ as a surprise to get the ball rolling.
We both knew we wanted to get engaged soon, and I wanted Keenan feel more confident than he’d ever felt on our wedding. Six months later, Keenan’s braces had come and gone, and I could immediately see a change in the way he smiled (especially on pictures!) and how much more comfortable he was with public speaking – a big part of his job!
Q&A with DR JJ Serfontein: Everything you need to know about adult braces
Q: You specialise in adult dentistry – from orthodontics to reconstruction. What makes your practice so state of the art – what are the modern techniques that are helping patients get such amazing results in as little as 3 months of wearing braces?
A: Short Term adult orthodontics play a major role in our modern understanding of how to treat adults and help them preserve their teeth and ultimately, their oral health. It comes down to the fact that we need our teeth longer than ever before, since our life expectancy has changed so dramatically.
We can no longer destroy a patient’s tooth structure for treatments like old crowns, when the patient has healthy teeth that are merely misaligned. Our modern understanding and the technologies at our disposal are allowing us to produce results much faster and more effectively than in previous years. For these reasons, braces have become a much more acceptable option for adult patients.
Q: Adults often assume that the only way to get perfectly straight teeth is with veneers. But for patients with healthy natural teeth, you prefer looking at braces or Invisalign first, before considering veneers. Why is that?
A: Veneers have become synonymous with Cosmetic Dentistry as they can produce beautiful results in a short space of time. But the truth of the matter is that veneers should be utilised once significant damage like wear and tear has occurred to the tooth structures. Veneers can present with higher levels of maintenance than natural teeth, so I believe that when a patient presents with little to no damage, one should protect the teeth with short term braces. The maintenance is much lower and the longevity of the teeth is drastically increased.
Q: Many adults who had braces as children need orthodontics again later in life. Why is that and what can we do about it?
A: It’s called “progressive crowding”. There are many factors that cause our teeth to consistently move throughout life, so it’s essential to have retention after braces to prohibit new movement. If retention is missing the teeth will move again.
Q: How do you decide whether a patient is better suited to braces or Invisalign?
A: We have found that both conventional braces and Invisalign yield very good results. There are however some more advanced cases where we would prefer conventional braces as a rule. The most important factors for the patient remain time frame; Invisalign tends to take longer as it requires a high level of patient compliance, cost; Invisalign is more expensive and lifestyle; some patients prefer Invisalign as it far less visible than conventional braces.
Q: What is the average timeline for adult braces in your practice?
A: Most of the cases we treat with conventional braces have an average timeframe of 6 to 8 months. Of course, this will differ from case to case and person to person.
Q: What is the average cost for adult braces in your practise? Do you offer payment plans?
A: The cost can differ vastly as each case is unique, so a consultation is vital to be able to formulate a plan and cost. The average cost for our cases is around R45 000 for conventional braces. Seeing that braces are a lengthy treatment, we do offer payment plans subject to the duration of treatment.
Q: How long does it take to apply the braces to a new patient?
A: The application is divided into multiple sessions. On average, appointments range from 15 min to 45 min.
Q: Once a patient has completed their treatment with braces, what are the next steps to ensure their teeth stay in their new, straight position?
A: We utilise a combination of permanent retention (wire at the back of teeth) and removable retention (plate to sleep with). Having straight, beautiful, healthy teeth is a lifelong commitment!
Q: What are the health risks associated with not getting severely crooked teeth straightened?
A: The most important health risks are gingivitis and periodontitis (infections of the gum and bone surrounding the teeth). These chronic infections contribute to cardiovascular disease and diabetes type 2. There are also other risks like early tooth loss and irregular wear and tear of the teeth, which can lead to oral health issues.
Q: What are the steps in the start-to-finish treatment for a patient getting short-term adult orthodontics?
A: The steps would be; A thorough examination and formulating of treatment plan; placement of the braces and commencement of treatment; regular consultation intervals to facilitate treatment; removal of braces once treatment goal is reached; finalisation of the treatment which includes final checks, retention sequence and oral hygiene appointments.
Q&A with Keenan: Everything you need to know about what it’s like to have adult braces
Q. Why didn’t you get braces when you were a kid?
A: My parents were raising 4 kids and they just couldn’t afford it.
Q. Do you feel like not having perfectly straight teeth impacted your confidence?
A: Absolutely! Especially when it comes to presenting my work to clients, meeting new people and smiling in pictures. Before, I would speak to cover my teeth and I felt like people were only focused on my teeth when I was speaking to them
Q: How long did you spend thinking about having your teeth done?
A: Probably every day from the day I started working. So at least 10 years.
Q: Did you ever consider adult braces before heard about Dr JJ?
A: No. Because, to be honest, I thought I would have to wear them for years, and that it would cost over R100K. I just didn’t think I would be able to commit to them.
Q: What finally made you decide to investigate adult orthodontics?
A: I started to hear that with modern technology, it wouldn’t be such a long process. I also saw the impact that having perfect teeth had on a friend who was a patient of Dr JJ’s, and I was ready to learn more.
Q: What was the pain level like during the 5 months you wore braces?
A: The first few days were about a 6/10, but after that the only pain was when I bit my cheek (happened more often than you’d imagine!)
Q: Did wearing braces impact your confidence?
A: Literally, for the first week it was all I could think about. But people – even people at my office – didn’t even notice I had braces! After the first few weeks I never really thought about them.
Q: What has been the biggest change since your braces came off?
A: I think all my life, I’ve had this insecurity that I have thought about every day. Now that insecurity isn’t part of my life anymore.
Q: What were the health implications of having skew teeth explained to you by Dr JJ?
A: In the short-term, it’s more difficult to clean skew teeth than straight teeth. In the long-term, the pressure placed on skew teeth really shortens their lifespan, so I was looking at significant issues with my teeth down the line.
Q: What would your advice be for people considering getting adult braces?
A: If you can afford it, absolutely do it.
Keenan’s braces were on and off in 6 months and he had people at work telling him 4 months in that they hadn’t even noticed he had been wearing them. So if you’ve been longing to have your teeth done, you now have all the information you need to make your dream smile a reality. Social distancing is probably a great time to get your braces! Of course, a medical or dental practice would be well-versed in hygienic practices, but Dr JJ’s office is going above and beyond to ensure the safety of their team and their patients during this time. For more info on their COVID-19 measures, have a look at their statement.
*This post is brought to you in collaboration with Dr JJ Serfontein.