7 Childhood Conditions You Can Still Correct

toothbrush and retainertoothbrush and retainerJosie Richardson was surprised when her dentist suggested she get braces. Although she'd always been embarrassed by her overlapping teeth, at 46 she'd resigned herself to her imperfect smile. But when the dentist pointed out that it was more than just a cosmetic issue - it's harder to clean between crooked teeth - Richardson, a jewelry designer in Boca Raton, FL, signed on for the mouthful of hardware normally associated with teens. Indeed, soon after, she and her 14-year-old son became a matched pair. Now, four years later, Richardson says, "I look for reasons to smile."

There are a host of cosmetic and medical conditions, from crooked teeth to reading difficulties, that are normally corrected in childhood. But if you missed out, now is the time to reconsider. Thanks to treatment advances and the extra motivation that maturity brings, it might be an even better time. "Fixing an issue you've had for many years can give you a huge boost in self-esteem," says Lauren Ozbolt, M.D., assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. And you won't be the only grown-up trying to squeeze into the tiny seats in the waiting room: More and more adults are now confronting these formerly "kids-only" problems.

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Crooked Teeth

The over-18 crowd makes up nearly a quarter of orthodontic patients, reports the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). One reason women may be more interested is the development of more aesthetic hardware, like enamel-colored braces and removable clear aligners that slide over teeth (Invisalign is the best-known brand), says Michael B. Rogers, D.D.S., president of the AAO.

The downside to having waited: Teeth that have twisted for many years try harder to return to their original positions once braces are removed. Your orthodontist may attach a wire to the backs of your teeth or send you to a periodontist who'll snip tiny gum fibers that may pull the teeth. Expect to pay around $5,000 (likely more in big cities); some dental policies cover the procedure, but many pay only for kids 18 and under.

Klutziness

Some women knock over their water glasses or bump into doors so often, they assume clumsiness is part of their makeup. Wrong. One reason may be that muscles are weak, says Mary Ann Wilmarth, D.P.T., chief of physical therapy at Harvard University Health Services. "Even if you work out regularly, you could be shortchanging certain areas," she says. Having a weak rotator cuff in your shoulder, for example, can cause you to rely on your smaller hand muscles when reaching for dishes in the cupboard, which leads you to drop them. Poorly toned hip muscles could make you trip when navigating curbs. A physical therapist can show you the best strength-training exercises and work with you on ways to move more fluidly. You might also want to learn to focus your mind (one effective way: incorporating the practice of mindfulness into your regimen). Robin Dilley, a psychologist in Phoenix, loved to hike, but was always falling over her feet until she realized how often she was thinking about something else. Once she began focusing on the trail, the problem disappeared.

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reading glassesreading glassesReading Issues

Up to one in five Americans have dyslexia, making it challenging for them to get through a best seller - or even a menu. If they weren't diagnosed in school, many may incorrectly assume they're simply slow readers - "or even stupid," says Sally Shaywitz, M.D., codirector of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. But dyslexia is neurological: Disruptions in key brain circuits affect the ability to retrieve or correctly order the basic sounds of language, explains Dr. Shaywitz. Telltale clues - beyond reading in a way that feels plodding and deliberate - include exceptionally poor spelling and knowing a word but being unable to utter it correctly.

Although the process is time- consuming, you can overcome dyslexia. It requires relearning the basics of reading, all the way back to learning how to sound out words. Group classes for adults typically meet at libraries, adult education centers, or offices of nonprofit literacy organizations several times a week for a year or longer. You can also have private lessons with a tutor. Two reading programs that Dr. Shaywitz recommends: the Wilson Reading System (wilsonlanguage.com) and Language (voyagerlearning.com/language).

Lazy Eye

For many years, doctors believed that if you didn't strengthen the vision in a "lazy eye" by the second grade - generally by patching the stronger eye for several hours a day - you were out of luck. "The thinking was that after age 7, the brain would not make the needed corrections," says Michael Repka, M.D., professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. But new research suggests that the age limit might be extended: A University of California, Berkeley study found, for example, that adults playing video games (with the stronger eye patched) for about two hours a day for 40 hours could improve visual acuity by 30% - one to two lines on an eye chart.

If your lazy eye is caused by a muscle weakness (strabismus), the same surgery that straightens out misaligned eyes in children works in adults, too. Susan Reale of Oakland, CA, had that operation at age 38 to correct an extremely turned-in right eye. A dozen years later, she marvels at how much the surgery has changed her life, allowing her to open her own consulting firm, where she interviews customers face-to-face for corporations: "Before, it was difficult to connect with people because they thought I was staring over their shoulders. Now they know I'm looking them right in the eye."

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Speech Disorders

Shannon Armes of Wilsons, VA, worried that her lifelong inability to say even her first name without stuttering would hold back her career. So three years ago, at the age of 31, she enrolled in a 12-day intensive program, spending eight hours each day practicing new techniques until her speech was fluid. "The therapy was incredibly challenging, but it gave me skills that have transformed my life," says Armes, who has been promoted to a new job in customer service. And last summer, she was thrilled to be able to say her wedding vows without stuttering.

There are about a dozen intensive programs for stuttering in the United States and Canada, but they can be expensive. (Armes's cost about $3,500, only half of which was covered by insurance.) To find a center, go to stutteringhelp.org and click on Referrals, then on Intensive Clinics. You can also work with a local speech-language pathologist (SLP) either on an intense basis or for a few days each week for several months, says Diane R. Paul, Ph.D., of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (For a listing of SLPs, go to asha.org/findpro.)

Breaking a lisp can be easier: Substituting the "th" sound for the "s" involves focusing on just one pattern. An SLP will diagnose faulty tongue positions and prescribe exercises.

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If you haven't outgrown it, you can still put an end to...

Nail biting

Not surprisingly, women use this unconscious repetitive behavior (hair pulling is another) to shake off stress or boredom, says Fred Penzel, Ph.D., a psychologist in Huntington, NY. He advises adults to keep a log of when, where, and in what moods they're more likely to bite their nails, then find other ways to use their fingers during those times. Penzel's favorites: popping Bubble Wrap, manipulating Silly Putty, or playing with toothed hardware washers (their points stimulate the fingers). In addition, a 2011 Israeli study found that wearing a vinyl wristband can serve as a reminder of your desire to quit and help steel your resolve.

Sleepwalking

A just-released survey from the Stanford Sleep Epidemiology Research Center in California found that 29% of adults have walked in their sleep at least once in their lives and close to 3% do so regularly. First, you need to rule out medical causes, such as sleep apnea or medication side effects. Then, if none is found, you might want to try a treatment known as "anticipatory awakening": setting your alarm to rouse you a half hour before you typically wander, suggests John Villa, D.O., medical director of the Institute for Sleep-Wake Disorders at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. One or two sessions of hypnosis can also help, one study has found.

- by Meryl Davids Landau

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