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There are two separate waiting rooms in Dr. Rael Bernstein's orthodontia office in Santa Rosa. One features iPods and Xboxes. The other, with its own entrance, has a coffee bar, daily newspapers and CNN on the television.

One is for kids getting braces. The other is for people the age of their parents and grandparents getting their own.

"A lot of people think braces are just for teenagers," said Bernstein, who has installed braces on people "well into their 80s" and says a third of his patients are adults.

"We've had grandparents and grandkids in treatment at the same time, in a race to see who gets their braces off first."

Katherine Foster, a Sebastopol pediatrician, had braces fitted in November. At 64, she jokes about "trying to regain my youth," but her real motivation is to correct crowded teeth and receding gums which she said is "partly my own doing. I'm a tooth-clencher in my sleep."

Ironically, Foster came to braces in seeking a remedy for tinnitus, ringing in the ears. She has since discovered tinnitus is "related to the clenching which causes gum recession, which can be improved with orthodontia."

She hopes that when her braces come off in 15 months, she'll have straight teeth and will only need to wear a mouth guard at night. Her braces will cost her around $6,500, "equal to a nice trip somewhere."

Dentist John Savko said teeth naturally change and move around with aging.

"It's called mesial drift," he said. "Over time our back molars push all our teeth forward and cause more crowding of the anterior (front) teeth. It's not a disease. It's a progressive condition. Some may be more progressive than others.

"It's more critical as you get older to take better care of your teeth" in all ways, he said, including flossing, diligent dental hygiene and preventing and treating periodontal disease.

All teeth naturally wear down with age, said Savko. Other dental concerns that come with aging include discolored teeth, failing and leaking crowns, underbite, overbite and loose bridgework.

"You need to watch out for gum loss and bone loss as you get older," he said. "You want to support the bone around the teeth, which is why we try to focus on preventive dentistry."

Being pro-active at any age, especially for mature adults, he said, will mean less pain in the dentist's office and less chance of developing severe problems that result in losing teeth.

Options have improved for tooth replacement, too, said Savko, with implants being used rather than putting in a bridge, or moving to partial or full dentures.

In fact, he said, most older adults can hope "to keep their teeth for their whole life," unlike previous generations who assumed their future would include false teeth.

Much of the boom in braces in the last 10 years is credited to a tooth alignment device called Invisalign, which does the work of braces but is transparent, removable and more aesthetically pleasing than the traditional metal-mouth style. Think of it as the difference between wearing contact lenses and glasses.

"Invisalign is a clear alternative to a brace with wire," said orthodontist Bernstein, who got braces when he was 40.

"It's basically a tray that fits over the teeth," and can be removed for eating and teeth brushing.

Not all patients are candidates for Invisalign.

"It depends on the type of tooth movement and the extent of the movement," he said.

But even the old-style metal braces have been upgraded and both versions require less wearing time than in the past — 15 to 18 months instead of up to three years. And they're gentler.

"You don't need to be cranked on and wear head gear like you used to," said Bernstein.

He also offers another selling point to boomers with braces. They're age-defying.

"People look 20 years younger in braces. It's instant rejuvenation," he said. "They look like a teenager because there's an association of youth with braces."

And after? A better smile, straighter teeth and what Bernstein goes so far as to call a "brace lift."

"Part of the aging process is not just the teeth shifting but changes to the face and the corners of the mouth," he said. "The face tends to collapse a little and get narrow, but we put the teeth back where they were when someone was younger and they look more youthful."

Occidental artist Marylu Downing got mixed reviews when she started wearing braces in her late 60s to ease crowding of her front teeth.

"Some of my friends asked me why I was bothering at my late age," she said. "I told them when I die I'll have an open casket and a big smile." On the flip side, male friends told her that braces were sexy, "in a schoolgirl kind of way."

Downing didn't qualify for the removable kind so she went to the metal mode, which called for eliminating crunchy foods like nuts and chips and eating more soup than turkey burgers.

But that was an added perk. By the time she was flashing her straight new teeth she'd also lost 10 pounds.

(Susan Swartz is a freelance writer and author based in Sonoma County. Contact her at susan@juicytomatoes.com.)