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Home Uncategorized How to... Brace Your Kids for Braces

How to… Brace Your Kids for Braces

By Carol McGarrahan

The talk about braces these days is less about being a metal mouth and more about a kaleidoscope of colors and styles that make it easy to take a positive approach to the  treatments that will give your child a winning smile.

“Brace Face” No More

With all of the new products and options available, braces have become more trendy, less painful and less of an embarrassment. “For the 8- and 9-year-olds, it’s really the cool thing. They are always super excited about getting the braces,” says Akash Pandya, an orthodontist at Stewart and Labbe Orthodontics, which has offices in Annapolis, Bowie, Greenbelt and Crofton.

Teens may not be as thrilled about braces, but even for the most down-in-the-mouth teen, the days of being a “brace face” are long past. Now kids with braces are the envy of their peers because they can wear team colors as mouth jewelry or choose the ultimate hot pink that complements their favorite outfit. Is Halloween around the bend? Just switch to day-glow orange and black wires for a dramatic effect.

Colors aren’t the only option that has made braces more hip. New product choices mean patients can choose from clear or porcelain braces that blend with their smile, or they can opt for lingual braces, which are virtually unseen behind the teeth.

Improvements to the actual brackets on the teeth also help. “Compared to before, the brackets are a lot smaller and less noticeable,” says Pandya. Braces are not only more aesthetic but more comfortable.

Invisalign braces, which are removable like retainers, are also an option, but they are not as popular in young children, partly due to the issue of compliance, since the braces must be removed and replaced each time you eat.

A child with braces will have plenty of company in the classroom. At any given time, four million children in the U.S. and Canada are receiving treatments from an orthodontist. Many of those orthodontic patients are celebrities — tennis star Venus Williams, Chris of ‘N Sync and Prince Harry, the son of Prince Charles and Diana, the late Princess of Wales, among them.

What to Expect

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends taking children for their first orthodontist visit at the age of 7. Referral from a dentist is fine, but not necessary.

“The reason 7 is a desirable age is because typically it is prior to the peak growth spurt, and some appliances are designed to take advantage of that growth spurt and modify the growth while it is occurring,” says Pandya. Examples of these appliances include:
• Retainer
• Headgear
• Palatal Expander
• Lower Lip Bumper
• Lower Lip Arch

During an initial visit, the orthodontist will take panoramic x-rays and sometimes do an impression, or a clay mold, of the teeth. A cephalometric x-ray, or profile shot of the head that shows the upper and lower jaw in reference to the face, may also be taken. Facial photos will be taken and a clinical examination of the mouth performed.
Most orthodontic treatments last from 12 to 36 months, with 24 months being the average, according to the AAO.

Treatment usually consists of two phases. In Phase I, appliances and braces, often on the upper four front teeth, may be used. Phase II consists of a full set of braces supplemented with headgear or other appliances.

Will It Hurt?

The process of getting braces is not painful. The visit itself will take 1½ – 2 hours, but bonding the brackets to the teeth takes only about 15 minutes. Improved bonding materials allow attachment of brackets directly to the front of most teeth, although the back molars will still have full bands that encircle the tooth.

Rubber bands called spacers are sometimes worn for a few weeks prior to getting braces to create a gap between crowded teeth.

The first 24 to 48 hours after braces are placed on the teeth is usually the worst, as far as tenderness in the mouth goes. Patients can take anti-inflammatory medicines available for headaches. Orthodontic wax can cover wires in areas that are irritated and salt water rinses also can heal inflamed areas of the inner cheeks or gums.

“Compared to before, it is a lot gentler on the teeth,” says Pandya.

The Care and Feeding of Braces

The whole point of braces is to create a beautiful, functional smile, and without good dental hygiene that goal is unattainable.

To that end, the orthodontist will provide a kit containing a special floss-threader, brushes and mouthwash for the patient’s use.

It’s important to avoid, sticky, chewy or crunchy foods. Bubble gum and popcorn are off limits, but some sugar-free gum is OK. Be sure to cut up crunchy foods, such as apples or carrots, into smaller chunks and chew with the back teeth.
To make up for the food sacrifices children make while they’re wearing braces, many orthodontists offer some previously forbidden treats on the day the braces come off. Then it’s time to enjoy the confidence that comes with a beautiful smile!

Carol McGarrahan is a mother and freelance writer.

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