Originally created 12/11/97

Bracing for gold



When Wanda Newton opens her mouth, all that glitters is gold.

The 42-year-old teacher was fitted recently with 24-karat gold braces to straighten teeth that had grown in crooked and were worsening with age. The warm color of gold blended in with Mrs. Newton's skin complexion and looks like jewelry on her teeth, she said.

"The kids think the braces are cool. They want me to smile a lot," said Mrs. Newton, who teaches seventh grade at Harlem Middle School. "The adults have commented on how they blend in with the gold necklaces and rings I wear."

Gold braces have been available for at least eight years but are only now becoming popular in Augusta, local orthodontists say.

They cost a little more than the old-fashioned stainless steel ones, and they don't stain like the clear ones. Orthodontists say the high-tech gold-plated braces won't even turn color.

Available in 24-karat and champagne gold, the metal fashion for choppers hasn't caught on yet with teen-agers, but they are popular with a growing number of adults.

Gold braces aren't recommended for young people anyway. Adults tend to take better care of appliances, dentists say, and that's why they market the gold braces to people 18 and older.

"I used to use them all the time seven or eight years ago when I had a private practice in Atlanta." said Dr. John Martin, who has an office on Washington Road and is affiliated with Georgia/Carolina Orthodontic Group.

"About 15 percent of orthodontists around the country use them now. So it's really catching on," said Dr. Martin. He said his Atlanta patients included former President Carter's son; Carol O'Conner from All in the Family and In The Heat of the Night; and some IBM executives.

"Adults like the way they match their glasses, earrings, bracelets and watches," he said.

Dr. Martin isn't telling any of his Augusta patients about gold braces because he doesn't have them in stock yet. Anticipating a gold rush, he does have them ordered.

Traditional stainless steel and champagne-colored braces cost about $97 a month vs. $105 a month for 24-karat gold braces.

The number of patients who wear gold braces has gone from almost none in 1990 to 15.4 percent of all wearers today, according to Jennifer Todd, a spokeswoman for Orthodontic Centers of America.

Some baby boomers want to straighten their teeth so they'll look younger. If they have to wear braces, the adults often choose gold because they are attractive and complement their appearance, she said.

"They offered me a more sophisticated look than the traditional braces. They are very attractive," said Karen Poore, a program analyst at Savannah River Site.

Mrs. Poore got her braces a year ago. She chose 24-karat gold brackets with silver wire, which lends itself to the silver and gold mix of a Rolex watch.

"I didn't know they existed until my dentist told me about them. When I saw them, I liked them immediately, and I wanted them right away," Mrs. Poore said. "The gold braces made me feel more comfortable in maintaining a professional appearance for my job. They cost a little more, but they're worth it."

A full set of braces for adults runs between $3,300 and $4,400. A gold set costs about $350 more, said Mrs. Poore's orthodontist, Michael Rogers. Braces for children cost less because children's teeth straighten faster than those of adults, he said.

All of Dr. Rogers' patients who have gold braces are women. But with the popularity of the appliances spreading and with increasing numbers of men sporting earrings, chains, bracelets, watches and other jewelry, he thinks men may begin wearing gold braces as well.

From a treatment standpoint, there is little difference between the material used for the braces, said Dr. Rogers, who has an office on Wheeler Road.

"It's good for people who are sensitive to nickel," said Dr. Rogers. "And the gold ones tend to be less shiny than the silver ones."