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    Braces fix tin grins on adults

    A growing number of adults are fixing smiles with braces once considered just for kids.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 13, 2003

    [Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
    Mimi Morrissey, 34, right, followed the lead of her sister, Nilsa Bain, 30, and got braces.
    Braces aren't just for kids any more.

    Adults are lining up to get them, shelling out their own money and promising to keep up a rigorous oral hygiene regimen.

    Some doctors say they have put braces on patients as old as 80. Lots of 40-year-olds are showing up at their doors.

    "Baby boomers want to look younger, longer," says Dr. L. Ruth Berry, a Largo orthodontist. "We don't want to admit we're old."

    The American Association of Orthodontists started keeping track of adults wearing braces in 1989. The numbers keep going up, with the largest jump coming between 1996 and 2000, when the number of adults wearing braces increased by 14 percent.

    Dr. Amy F. Anderson has been putting braces on adult teeth since 1999. She says they now make up about 40 percent of her practice.

    "A lot of adults that come in either didn't have braces as a child or their parents couldn't afford it," says Anderson, a St. Petersburg orthodontist.

    For some, it is simply a health issue.

    Tammy Brown's teeth were misaligned. If she hadn't addressed the problem, she could have lost several teeth.

    "When you have good teeth, you can chew your food better," says Brown, of St. Petersburg. "When you can chew your food better, you get good digestion and you can taste the food better."

    The rush of adult patients comes on the heels of several advances in the industry.
    [Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
    St. Petersburg orthodontist Amy F. Anderson works with a mold to adjust a wire while adding braces to the teeth of Jessica Wade, 25.
    The metal braces of today are smaller, and clear braces, which used to break easily, are now more durable. A new product, called Invisalign, is more difficult to see than braces and is removable. Its introduction has made braces considerably more bearable for adults.

    Mimi Morrissey, 34, decided she would strap her overcrowded teeth in braces after three of her four sisters made the investment.

    "I can't be the only one with messed-up teeth," says Morrissey, of Clearwater. She says her age was never a consideration.

    "I figure I'm not halfway done with my life yet," she says. "I'd rather the rest of it be with the smile that I like."

    But a better smile is not easy to achieve. Wearing braces is cumbersome and requires several doctor's appointments. The cost ranges from $1,500 to $6,000. The good news: Adults tend to make better patients.

    "They break things less, tend to be more responsible, brush their teeth better -- and they're paying for them," says Jeffrey Stein, an orthodontist practicing in New Port Richey and Palm Harbor.

    Braces can be painful. Adult teeth don't move as quickly as children's, and some problems require surgery.

    Morrissey had to have four teeth removed, and will have to wear her braces for about two years. She can't eat corn on the cob and her "mouth looks funny in pictures."

    But she says it's worth it to straighten her teeth.

    Her sister, Nilsa Bain, 30, started the family trend when she wanted to close the space between her two front teeth.

    She wouldn't smile. Strangers would stop her in the mall and tell her to smile.

    "It was something that I just felt self-conscious about," says Bain, of Seminole.

    Not anymore. A year ago, she started sporting a tin grin.

    She has advice for those straddling the line:

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