Disclaimer: Dr. Lints is my orthodontist. Yes, at the age of 61 I’m regularly in his Traverse City office, right in there with the tweeners.

When I was 59 my dentist suggested braces—actually not braces, the new, clear aligners that are way less noticeable than a mouthful of metal. After my dentist brought it up I took a good look in my mouth and admitted to myself there were problems. My right canine had begun to bulge forward—more wolflike than grandmotherly! A bottom incisor appeared dark because it was pushed back and, horror of horrors, all those incisors were beginning to look, as they say about horses and old people: long in the tooth.

My aligner journey (the product name I have is Invisalign) has been enlightening—right down to the fact that the 3-D imagery done on my entire skull for the process revealed that I had narrow air passages making me a candidate for sleep apnea. At my last appointment, six months into my projected two years of wearing alignables (and yes, my teeth are straightening, yahoo!), I asked Dr. Lints more about the new world of seniors in braces.

So, am I the only grandmother wearing these, or has this become a senior phenom?

We have patients who are 70 and 80 years old getting aligners because they want the nice smile back they had when they were 16—but they didn’t want to have to wear braces. Aligners are a non-invasive way to move your teeth. They can also solve real orthodontic problems like occlusion. And as you age, your teeth push up, and with aligners we can push them back down. So the reasons for seniors wearing them are both aesthetic and functional.

On my first appointment you took a fascinating 3-D image of my skull and it revealed that I was a candidate for sleep apnea, something I have now talked to my doctor about. Are there other health issues this procedure can reveal?

Yes, with 3-D imaging we can see what you can’t see with traditional X-rays. Among other things, 3-D imaging can reveal pathology in the mouth—so we can prevent and identify infections. This is especially important with older people and people going through radiation and immunotherapy treatment.

Any thoughts on the online alignable products that you can get in the mail— without ever seeing an orthodontist?

The online products do not even compare to what we can do with Invisalign and its patented SmartTrack material. SmartTrack applies gentle force and fits really tightly on your teeth. We also apply attachments on your teeth that hold the retainer in the mouth securely. Online products don’t have the attachments, aren’t made from the SmartTrack material and they don’t use the 3D imaging—and they don’t have a doctor supervising the entire process. With Invisalign you are seeing a doctor every 8 to 12 weeks to check that the teeth are moving correctly. If a tooth is not moving correctly, we take another digital scan and take corrective action.

We also work closely with a patient’s dentist and periodontist to make sure the teeth and the gum tissue around the teeth are healthy before we start. We really cross our t’s and dot our i’s.