DESPITE the fact that dental braces are associated with awkward teenage years, more adults are now unashamedly sporting them. Dr Winston Tong Tai-wing, president of the Hong Kong Society of Orthodontists, said the trend of adults wearing braces started about 10 years ago and had become very popular. ''Adults are not shy about wearing braces any more. In fact it is trendy,'' he said. Dr Tong said the misconception used to be that only teenagers could have their teeth corrected. ''But now people between the ages of 20 and 50 have their teeth corrected,'' he said. Twenty-four-year-old patient Brian Cheng Hon-yuen said he wanted to have a better set of teeth and, most important, ''to look good''. ''Since I was young, my teeth seem to have shrunk, and I have always had problems chewing my vegetables properly,'' he said. Mr Cheng has been seeing an orthodontist for two years, and is now wearing a retainer - or plate - to keep his corrected alignment. ''I had my fair share of difficulties when I first put on those brackets. You feel your mouth is full of things. I thought I could not close my mouth properly; my lips were parted,'' he said. Like Mr Cheng, Sindy Chan Ah-kuen, who has been wearing braces for eight months, has similar sentiments. ''It was painful at first, and I had to always clean my teeth after eating,'' she said. But the extra work and suffering eventually paid off. After one month of wearing braces, Ms Chan found her cluttered teeth had straightened a little, giving her a much-needed confidence boost. As long as the teeth and gums are healthy, correction can be done at any age, Mr Tong said, adding: ''However, if one has a gum disease, then the disease has to be treated first.'' There are a few types of braces available, including stainless steel, clear and invisible brackets, and some can be put behind the teeth. ''Invisible'' brackets can cost as much as $90,000, depending on the severity of the problem, Dr Tong said, while conventional stainless steel brackets are more efficient and economical. ''The teeth move faster,'' he said. Treatment lasts from a minimum of one year up to three years, while some people wear retainers throughout their life to hold the correction. Dr Tong said the most common problem for people seeking orthodontic treatment was bimaxillary protrusion with crowding, which makes the mouth appear bloated. He said charges for treatment ranged from $20,000 to $90,000, depending on the severity of the problem. ''People are now willing to pay because they have realised orthodontic treatment is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,'' he said. Mr Cheng said: ''Correcting my teeth has been my dream since childhood and I don't mind paying the amount''. He said the cost of his treatment was about $28,000. Dr Tong stressed people should go to an orthodontist if correction was required. ''Improper treatment can lead to problems,'' he said.