girl with bracesThe start of the school year may signal the beginning of orthodontic treatment—or perhaps just an orthodontic evaluation. Here are 10 things parents and kids should know about wearing braces: 

1.  The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children have an orthodontic screening no later than age 7; by that age, enough permanent teeth have emerged to identify potential problems. Early treatment may prevent more serious problems from developing and may make treatment at a later age shorter and less complicated.

2.  Early treatment, says the AAO, may give your orthodontist the chance to:

  • guide jaw growth
  • lower the risk of trauma to front teeth that stick out
  • correct harmful oral habits
  • improve appearance
  • guide permanent teeth into a more favorable position
  • improve the way the lips meet

3. A visit to an orthodontist is obvious if your child’s teeth are crooked or overcrowded, but here are some other reasons for an evaluation:

  • early or late loss of baby teeth
  • difficulty in chewing or biting
  • mouth breathing
  • jaws that shift or make sounds
  • speech difficulties
  • biting the cheek or the roof of the mouth
  • facial imbalance
  • grinding or clenching of the teeth

4. The AAO says most actual treatment begins between ages 9 and 14. Orthodontic treatment typically lasts from one to three years, though each orthodontic plan is unique to each child. Usually a child will see an orthodontist every 6 to 12 weeks over the course of treatment.

5. Braces for kids today are different from the braces their parents wore. Traditional metal brackets are smaller and more comfortable, they go on fast, wires are light and flexible, and elastics come in a wide range of colors.

6. An orthodontist may be able to recommend alternatives to traditional metal brackets, including: self-ligating braces with wires that slide as the teeth shift; clear removable aligners that use no wires or metal; brackets and wires that attach to the back side of the teeth; and treatment plans using individually custom-bent wires. Some methods are better than others for either simple or complex changes to the bite, tooth alignment, and tooth straightening. And some methods can only be used on older teens or tweens. Your child’s orthodontist will recommend the best option.

7. Once your child gets braces, your orthodontist may prohibit your child from eating certain foods or drinks. While fruit punch may be out of the question (it could stain teeth) and Snickers bars and other chewy treats will most likely be no-nos (they can rip the wires right off), just tell your child to think about how good her teeth will look when the braces come off. Do not let her chew gum, under any circumstances.

8.  Have soft foods on hand each time your child comes home from the orthodontist’s office, as his teeth may be sore from the adjustment to his braces.

9.  Holidays will be more exciting. Kids wearing traditional metal brackets can select cool colors to coordinate with a particular holiday. Get ready for orange and black for Halloween, and pink and red for Valentine’s Day. When Picture Day rolls around, though, warn your child she may not want neon-pink braces for posterity.

10. Brushing and flossing teeth daily are essential. Give kids a mini-tooth brush and travel-sized toothpaste for their school backpack so they can duck into the bathroom after lunch to use them. 

Katrina Musto, a freelance writer in northern New Jersey, wore braces as a teen.

Picked up any other dos or don'ts regarding braces? Please share below.