by Alice White
Dr Neil Counihan, leading orthodontist and founder of Metamorphosis Orthodontics, is extremely passionate about teeth. Whilst speaking with him I sensed that he deeply cared about his patients, and the confidence boost that a straight set of teeth could give them. Now he wants to spread the word that it’s never too late to fix your teeth.
A YouGov survey conducted by the British Orthodontic Society found that 45% of UK adults are unhappy with the appearance of their teeth, yet only 20% would consider having orthodontic work.
“Why the hell shouldn’t you”, Dr Neil says to me, speaking boldly of getting braces fixed in later life. “This attitude towards the over 50s that it’s too late is ridiculous. People are living longer now, so with 30 or 40 years of life left, I say go for it.”
He is right, of course. ‘Over 50’ is by no means ‘over the hill’ – in fact an empty nest, a new career or entering retirement can be the perfect opportunity to come out of your shell and reinvent yourself.
“Women reach that time in their lives when the children have left home, and after 30-or-so years of running around after others, they begin to think of themselves.”
“I get an equal number of men too, asking for their teeth to be straightened. They can be high-flying businessmen who want to look good for that boardroom meeting in the USA, but I’ve also had a cabbie who was getting married. They are people of all walks of life who don’t want to have anything holding them back.”
Bridget was 72 years old and recently widowed when she came to Dr Neil Counihan to have her teeth straightened. “She’s my heroine!" Neil exclaims. "Having the confidence to make that change after losing her husband was very inspiring.” But Bridget is not Dr Neil’s oldest patient – that honour goes to 82-year-old twins Elizabeth and Priscilla Fry.
“You’re never too old; my twin sister and I were in our 80s and both came to Metamorphosis for teeth whitening and treatment, because we felt like a bit of a spruce. The results have been fantastic and it has really given both of us a new lease of life. We feel increasingly confident and it has definitely offered us a boost at the right time of life.”
Although we associate braces with the spotty-skinned, bad-tempered youth of today, braces can be just as effective in combatting the common dental problems of later life. “As we age, the elasticity of tissue in our mouths and gums become less tight: When a teenager smiles they show their upper teeth, but when someone over 50 smiles they show a lot more of their lower teeth. Therefore a lot of my patients had never been conscious of their smiles until their middle age. Also teeth migration in later life is extremely common, and subtle braces are a good way to combat this.”
Even after that stellar endorsement and the most logical of reasoning, I am sure a lot of you are still reluctant to have anything more than a check-up and a clean, but why?
Perhaps it is that common fear of the dreaded dentist that so many over 50s share, but Dr Neil explains why this won’t be such a common issue for the next generation. “Oral health has improved dramatically in England over the last 10 years, and because we set our children up early for a good start, they are developing lesser problems in later life. But many people who come to me didn’t have that level of care, and are often surprised how far dentistry has come since their last visit decades ago. It’s by no means as painful or traumatising as it once was!”
Maybe it is the cost of extensive treatment that puts a lot of people off, but what are the alternatives? “Brush them!” says Dr Neil, “As well as the obvious advice to avoid coffee, red wine and cigarettes. But the people who really want the work done will find the money no matter what, because they put such a high value on their teeth.”
Dr Neil Counihan’s advice to anyone considering major orthodontic work is to first discuss it with your regular dentist. “You can also seek advice from the General Dental Council of Orthodontists – their website is very informative and impartial.”