AS a 16-year-old, braces seemed preposterous enough. If I didn’t have shame about my smile before, I certainly did when sporting train-tracks of metal, elastics flashing with every word I spoke. As for adult braces – well, it was commonly accepted that only youth could carry off the indignity of the oral railroad. The few adults one saw with braces were pitied.
Times have changed since 1998, when I last had metal in my mouth. Celebrities who have donned train-tracks recently include Prince William, Emma Watson and, most famously, Tom Cruise. Neil Counahan, a New York-trained orthodonist at Eleven Orthodontics near Harley Street, says his practice has seen an increase of 150 per cent in adult patients over the last year. “These days, the stigma of bad teeth outweighs the stigma of having braces,” he says. “Professionals would rather fix their pearlies – and do it visibly, in public – than put up with having a bad smile for another 10 years.” A spokesperson for Ortho World, another Harley Street orthodonist that’s seen a big rise in City customers, says: “Before, people talked about it. Now they actually go through with it.”
Counahan says that in the last five years, improvements in technology have sent a surge of adult professionals in his direction – if you’re willing to pay a little more and wait a bit longer for results, you can have braces affixed to the inside of your teeth so they are invisible. But people are not even so bothered about hiding the fact that they’re having work done. Many actually see it as a signal to the world that they’re taking action to improve themselves, considered a bonus in competitive professional circles.
“Globally, British teeth are the butt of jokes. They’re awful. Yet the cross-pollination with the States in all aspects of business, especially the City, means Brits need to up their game in the teeth stakes, and they’re showing they’re ready to do that.
“These days, people notice all aspects of appearance, your smile first and foremost. Professionally, a nice smile is a useful smile. People want to see straight teeth – if it’s a choice between a candidate with nice clean teeth and one with a set that’s all crooked and dirty, who do you think the employer is going to want to go with? With a good smile you get better jobs and more attractive partners – simple as that. For years Brits called their teeth ‘characterful’. But it’s not character, it’s just a rubbish set of teeth.”
Kounahan says he’s got a lot of clients – including some high profile hedge fund employees and TV pundits – who are “worried about appearances in the locker room and the boardroom” – he also says he sees a lot of high-profile young women who say they find it hard enough to fight their corner at work and therefore don’t want to look young (they ask for invisible braces), but who need their smile vamped up for extra clout. “The other big group lately is men who have been laid off, or are on gardening leave, who see this as the perfect time to invest in themselves,” says Counahan.
Clearly there are plenty of reasons for investing in teeth-straightening – not just for appearance but also for bite and mouth health. But how do you deal with the physical implications? From a professional perspective, can it damage your look and image? Lisa Bathurst, of Urbanity London, a fashion consultancy for City workers, says braces wearers have nothing to worry about: “Confidence is key here. Once the braces come off, the person will have a confident and powerful smile, which is extremely valuable in the work place. From the outset, wearing braces also needs some confidence, and those that do, ooze individualism that is hard to achieve in the City. To be unique and individual is the ultimate style
If you’re worried about appearance because you have opted for metal braces, Bathurst suggests drawing attention from the mouth by wearing accessories. “Whether it be pocket squares or more interesting ties for the boys, and chiffon neck scarves for the ladies, there are countless ways to draw attention elsewhere. Keeping hair a bit longer for the men, and ladies wearing more eye than lip make-up, will also help.”