Brace yourself - those teeth will cost a lot to fix
Braces don't necessarily make for healthier teeth, so what is the point of spending big money for appearances' sake? GEORGINA CAMPBELL reports on the growing demand for perfect teeth in New Zealand.
Look in the mirror - are you sensitive about your crooked teeth? What about your children's pearly whites?
Dentists say more Kiwis are dipping into their pockets to pay thousands of dollars for braces so they, or their children, can have the perfect smile.
In many cases it has nothing to do with better dental health.
Braces, say psychologists and dentists, are more an investment in self-esteem and a feeling of personal wellbeing. Appearances matter.
Christchurch mum Angela Meiritz-Reid faces a $15,000 bill for her two daughters' braces.
She believes it's a good investment.
"I would rather be spending that money on something else. It's not ideal, but it's worth it," she says.
Her eldest daughter, Abbey,15, has traditional braces on her teeth. They cost her parents $7650.
Angela says there are "aesthetic" reasons for the braces.
"Her [Abbey's] bottom jaw is bigger than her top jaw so that was the main reason we got braces for her. Because it's quite pronounced with her jaw, it made her face look quite flat so it is sort of a bit aesthetic as well."
Abbey Meiritz-Reid had the choice of getting braces or having her jaw broken to fix her crossbite. She chose braces.
Her parents put down an initial deposit of $1500 and are paying the bill off in weekly instalments. They want to pay for her braces before getting a $8090 set, less a small family discount, for younger sister Sophie, 13.
"It's one of those things that everyone is doing and you do want your best for your children," Angela Meiritz-Reid says.
Abbey Meiritz-Reid, who has pale blue rubber bands wrapped around the glistening metal in her mouth, which will stay there for about 15 months, says she felt insecure about her smile in the past. She looks forward to getting her braces off.
"I didn't smile a lot because I didn't really feel comfortable with it. Now I can see it changing and I feel more excited to be able to do that," she says.
Dunedin twins Ruby Shingleton and Bexy Shingleton, 17, are living proof that life after braces is good.
Their mum, Lynette Shingleton, says the $13,000 she spent on the twins' braces to transform their "vampire" teeth is worth it.
"It's a confidence thing and that is so important. When you see the before and after photos, they were quite bad. It was a little bit of a necessity, but obviously not everyone can afford them. Having a payment plan made braces affordable for us."
Ruby Shingleton no longer feels embarrassed to smile.
"I didn't mind my teeth so much when I was a lot younger, but now when I look back at them, I grimace."
Why so expensive?
Orthodontists are clear about two things - braces have got more expensive in the last decade and there is more demand for them.
The costs vary widely according to a patient's problems and what they are willing to spend.
Some people are set on straightening their teeth at any cost.
A New Zealand Association of Orthodontists spokeswoman says there is no average cost for braces because treatments vary.
"Orthodontic treatment is not like buying a can of baked beans. It's so tailored to different individuals," she says.
The cost of braces has increased because of costly technology and normal business costs, including higher rents.
Charges can differ depending on the location of a practice where the procedure took place.
"For example if the practice was in Auckland, treatments would be more expensive because of the rent there compared with, say, a practice in Dunedin," she says.
Coupled with higher costs, there is a climbing demand for braces as the "expectation from the public for good looking teeth is higher".
Christchurch orthodontist Phil Murfitt says every case is different so treatment costs vary.
A simple plate to correct a crossbite would cost about $800, he says.
Braces on the upper teeth would cost about $4000 and a full set would be about $6500.
Orthodontists say new products, which move beyond using wires to straighten teeth, are significantly more expensive than traditional braces. They especially appeal to adults looking to straighten their teeth.
For example, Invisalign, a new technology that uses a clear plastic cover placed over teeth can cost between $7500 and $10500 in New Zealand.
Murfitt says materials account for about 30 per cent of the cost and the rest covers equipment, staff and consultation.
Marguerite Crooks, another Christchurch orthodontist, says there is no proof braces improve oral health.
"Having straight teeth makes it easier to clean your teeth, but there is not good evidence that straight teeth will improve the health of your teeth and gums in the long term.
"Recent studies have indicated that there are significant benefits to having straight teeth and a great smile in relation to self-esteem and self-confidence and an improved quality of life."
Crooks says in some cases having orthodontic treatment corrected damage to teeth and gums caused by an incorrect bite.
"Some bites mean there is a significant amount of wear on teeth... when there is a deep bite, gum around the teeth can be stripped away and teeth start wobbling around."
Otago University is the only place in New Zealand to train in orthodontics. Students spend eight years and almost $100,000 to gain a Bachelor of Dental Surgery and a Doctor of Clinical Dentistry (Orth).
Just three to four students graduate each year. A 2014/ 2015 Emigrate New Zealand survey says Auckland orthodontists can earn anything from $110,000 each year.
Looking good, feeling good
We're all judged on our appearance at some point in life and teeth join a long list of physical markers that people notice, say psychologists.
MindWorks registered psychologist Sara Chatwin says people with crooked teeth are often judged by others.
"If something is horribly wrong and looks really out of place and perhaps quite not attractive to the eye, then other people will pick up on that and people could be judged for it."
Chatwin says people are more aware of oral health and there are greater options to improve the appearance of teeth.
A person's smile is crucial in forming connections with people, she says.
"It is a connecting device that enables you to get closer to a person. It enables you to make others feel good. It enables you to break down barriers that people might have up.
"I think for somebody who acknowledges they do not like their smile or their teeth, then that can be quite damaging for them if they don't seek help."
Image consultant Stephanie Rumble got braces at the age of 30. On a scale of one to crooked, she described her teeth as a four.
"They weren't really bad but they were enough that when I smiled you could see that my teeth weren't straight."
Rumble says her parents did not pay for her to have braces as a child because there was nothing "functionally problematic" with her teeth.
"If there is something that is visually distracting that is not proportional, we as humans notice it... if teeth are out of line, we look at them more," she says.
So are braces worth it?
This month, Christchurch intermediate student Sam Davison, 13, had thin bits of wire installed across his top teeth. His jaw is overcrowded.
His father, Paul, while not happy about the cost - about $5000 - thinks his son's teeth look a bit "fangy".
The pay off will come, he believes.
Bexy Shingleton is in no doubt her mum did the right thing by paying for braces.
She can make better first impressions with straight teeth.
"My teeth were just all over the show. I feel like to get jobs and stuff you have to look really good and after having braces I feel really good.
"We both feel it was a really good investment and a lot of people are doing it. Most of our friend group has had braces," she says.