Are Braces In Your Child’s Future?

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Braces weren’t always “in.” Those who wore thick metal wires, bands and brackets across their teeth were often called “metal mouth” and kept their lips clamped shut during school pictures. Now braces are fashion statements. Teens can choose from a variety of color combinations for a trendy look or opt for the “invisible” kind. With less cumbersome materials and a variety of choices, more and more teens wear braces with pride.

Are braces necessary?

“When a dental professional recommends a consultation for braces, it is imperative to follow through with an appointment,” says David Seligman, a certified orthodontic specialist with Seligman Orthodontics in Manhattan. Putting off a consultation can mean having to pull adult teeth later on or wearing braces for longer, he says.

Andrew Wells, a board-certified orthodontic specialist with Wells Orthodontics in Raleigh, agrees that when it comes to putting braces on, timing is everything. “Starting treatment too early before teeth have fully erupted can lead to longer treatment times, inability to align second molars, and the possibility of future growth affecting the stability of the end result,” he says. “Starting treatment too late can result in missed opportunities to treat serious tooth eruption problems before permanent damage occurs or missed opportunities to use growth to our advantage to improve skeletal and dental bite imbalances” such as crossbites, overbites and underbites.

Seligman suggests that if you are worried about your adolescent being able to care for his appliances, voice your concerns and discuss alternative options.

If your teen has a disability that might make it difficult for her to handle an oral appliance, discuss the matter at length with all professionals involved before moving forward. Be sure to gather as much information as possible from multiple sources and get a second opinion if you have doubts.

Treatment benefits

“Most patients begin orthodontic treatment between the ages of 9 and 14,” says Scott D. Gersch, a board-certified orthodontist with Gersch Orthodontics in Westfield, N.J. “Many orthodontic problems are easier to correct if detected at an early age before jaw growth has slowed. Early treatment may mean that a patient can avoid surgery and more serious complications.”

Gersch and Wells point out the following reasons to choose orthodontic treatment:

  • Treatment reduces the chances of losing teeth and enamel wear as a result of misaligned bites.
  • Treatment increases the longevity of teeth.
  • Crooked teeth can contribute to gum disease since they are more difficult to clean and can increase the likelihood of periodontal disease.
  • Studies show correlations between poor oral hygiene from misaligned teeth and systemic diseases, such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
  • A beautiful smile enhances self-esteem and self-confidence.

“Cool” and comfortable choices

“Adolescents don’t mind wearing braces anymore, especially when they are going through it with their friends,” says Nicholas Toscano, a board-certified periodontist and co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Implant and Advanced Clinical Dentistry. “It has become very fashionable for adolescents to get the clear braces.”

Wells says while younger phase patients tend to choose metal braces, older adolescents and adults prefer aesthetic brackets or clear aligners.

Toscano also reports that braces are not just for severe cases. “Just about anyone can benefit from treatment,” he says. “The ability to keep straight teeth cleaner is a huge factor.”

Gersch believes that today’s aesthetic options make braces more desirable and comfortable for teens to wear. These options include various designs and color combinations, tooth-colored ceramic brackets, lingual appliances fitted on the back of teeth and Invisalign Teen (which Gersch Orthodontics helped test and develop).

Maintaining dental hygiene

“When the novelty wears off, so does hygiene at times,” Seligman warns. “I suggest the following for my teen patients: an extra tooth cleaning (three times per year) and the use of some simple tools, such as an electronic toothbrush that has a timer, a water flosser and anti-plaque mouth rinses.”

Seligman says the most common reasons for loose or broken brackets include fingernail biting, ice chewing, biting on pencils or pens, and chewing hard and sticky snacks.

Gersch agrees. “Often the biggest problem with teenagers, whether they have braces or not, is oral hygiene, he says. “This definitely can be a challenge for some patients.”

Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer and columnist specializing in parenting issues and child and adolescent development. She is the mother of two teenagers.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do be sure your teen wears his retainer once the braces come off.
  • Don’t be lackadaisical about the list of “off-limits” foods.
  • Do ask your orthodontist about products that protect the lips (such as Braceguard) if your teen plays a wind instrument or contact sport.

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Categories: Health, Health & Wellness, Health and Development, Tweens and Teens