Braces Look All Grown Up

Less conspicuous ways to realign teeth

A translucent tray can fix twisted teeth.
A translucent tray can fix twisted teeth.

With an expanding array of "invisible" orthodontic hardware, fixing flawed teeth has become more appealing than ever. In fact, adults are increasingly opting to do so: About 1 in 5 orthodontic patients is 18 or older, the American Association of Orthodontists estimates, up by a third in the past decade. "The [options] are becoming more aesthetic and less conspicuous," says Raymond George Sr., president-elect of the AAO. "That's an incentive" for both adults and teens. Aesthetics aren't cheap, though. Expect to spend $3,000 to $8,000, he says, for any of the following treatments.

Clear aligners. Custom made for each set of teeth, the removable, translucent, plastic trays marketed as Invisalign afford a hushed way to get a smile worth smiling about. But they're not for everyone. Best for fixing minor issues like twisted or crowded teeth, they can't necessarily beat bite problems, some experts say.

Lingual braces. Attaching to the backs of teeth, not the fronts, these braces are discreet. They're also kinder to the lips and cheeks than forward-facing braces, but they may instead irritate the tongue.

Tooth-colored brackets. Even traditional braces are becoming more unnoticeable thanks to brackets that visually blend in. Made of ceramic or plastic, they make the "metal mouth" look a thing of the past. But the new brackets can be more brittle—not to mention pricier—than the metallic kind, George says, and may be prone to fractures, requiring replacement.