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Sunday, February 12, 2006   Kennebec Journal                                     By BETTY ADAMS
Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.                                  Staff Writer                            

Braces: No longer just for teens
Staff photo by Jim Evans
















Darryl S. Zeleniak says about 20 percent of his practice is for adults needing braces.
The butterfly is a kite that helps decorate the ceiling where patients spend time looking.
 
AUGUSTA -- Monica Grady gives a great big smile. A thin wire hugs her upper and lower teeth, the only visible sign of the braces she has worn for almost three years.

Now 38, Grady opted for orthodontic treatment when her jawline and teeth shifted as an adult.

"My regular dentist recommended I go to an orthodontist," said Grady, who lives in East Pittston.

She went to Dr. Darryl Zeleniak, an Augusta orthodontist, and chose clear brackets rather than bright metal ones for her upper teeth so they would be less noticeable.

"I'm in a business office. I didn't want to be a full metal mouth," Grady said. The insurance she carries through her job at the Maine State Housing Authority helped foot the bill.

"They come off the week after next," she said.

Before and during the treatment, friends and coworkers would come up to her to offer support and say they too had braces as adults.

In fact, one in five individuals wearing braces these days is an adult, according to figures from the American Association of Orthodontists.

According to the Association, almost 1.1 million people age 18 and over were in orthodontic treatment in 2004. That is an increase of 25 percent over 1989, when the group first tracked numbers, said Pam Paladin, manager of marketing for the association.

Zeleniak and Dr. Brian Morin, a Waterville orthodontist, say those percentages hold true in central Maine.

Karen Zeleniak, office manager for her husband's practice, wanted braces as a kid, but rejected the idea as a teen.

"I was so paranoid about looking bad in braces, and they would have extracted teeth," she said. She wasn't ready to have her mouth appear smaller and her nose larger. "I do not have a petite nose," she said.

Later, after she and Zeleniak married, she became a case study for him and his fellow orthodontists, all of whom had differing opinions on the types of treatment to provide.

So she waited again, finally getting braces in her 30s and wearing them for two years. "It wasn't a bad experience," she said. "When I'd go out to dinner, I'd always get soup not salad with those little shreds of things like celery, lettuce. You'd smile and as you're breathing, all the pieces of salad would be moving."

The cost for orthodontic treatment in the area generally ranges from $2,800 to $5,000, but in some cases can go higher. Karen Zeleniak said some insurance plans cover $750 to $2,000 for braces for adults.

"We're treating now, for example, some of the parents of kids we had treated earlier. A lot of them put their kids' welfare first, then say, 'It's time for me to treat myself,' " said Darryl Zeleniak.

He said one mother couldn't afford braces when her daughter was younger, but is footing the bill now even though the daughter is in her 30s.

"Tom Cruise had them around 40," said Zeleniak. "When I was doing orthodontic training, I treated a 63-year-old man who started in braces at 62. He said he had done his daughter and wife and finally said, 'I've always wanted this beautiful smile.' He took care of everybody else first and finally got the smile he wanted."

"The majority of the people I see tend to be in their 20s, 30s, or 40s," said Zeleniak, who has been in practice in Augusta since 1991. "There are quite a few family members -- a mom and daughter, a father and daughter."

Dr. Brian Morin has spent a dozen years in practice in Waterville. And he finds that among adults, women patients outnumber men.

"For the majority of them, it's something they've had in the back of their mind and they've always wanted to do it," said Morin, an orthodontist with an office on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville. "They say, 'Okay, the kids are done, I'm going to do it, or 'Now I have insurance' or now I can afford it.' "

He said he doesn't do as much replacement of broken brackets and wires on adults as he does on children, but added that some adults truly test the hardware. "They're set on making it through the treatment without really altering their diets," he said. "Adults in general are more cooperative. They know who's paying the bill, and they know the consequence."

Sarah Couturier beams when she talks about the results of her orthodontic treatment: "I love my teeth. They're so straight. They're white. They're beautiful," said Couturier, 22, of Winslow. "I love Dr. Morin and his staff. They're amazing people."

She spent about a year and a half in braces and looks young enough to be one of the teens served by the Waterville Area Boys & Girls Club at Alfond Center, where she is on staff.

Her mother paid for the treatment. "I was really self-conscious of my teeth," Couturier said. "I had an eye tooth that stuck out and my bottom teeth were crooked. It's been an issue for years."

She had to adjust her diet, eschewing corn on the cob and spending an hour and using a fork to eat a caramel apple bought by her soccer coach. Now she's eating as normal and smiling at everyone.

Betty Adams-- 621-5631                                                          badams@centralmaine.com
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Dr. Zeleniak's Office at 132 State Street