Girl wearing braces to straighten her teethIf it’s been a few years since you’ve worn braces, you’re in for a surprise. A wide variety of alternatives—many introduced in the past decade—make braces more attractive and less painful. And somehow, a taunt of “ceramic mouth!” doesn’t hold the same verbal punch as “metal mouth!”

Here are six of the latest ways to improve your child’s toothy grin:

1. Metal brackets

Surprisingly, many preteens prefer the traditional metal braces, says Robert James Bray, past president of the American Association of Orthodontists, and a practicing orthodontist in New Jersey. Kids love the colorful elastics that go around each bracket.

But these aren’t the braces you remember. “Now, the brackets are smaller and more comfortable, and applied with glue,” Dr. Bray says, instead of that old-school concrete sludge. It’s different than what we adults endured, so spare your kid the “back in my day” horror stories. “There’s not as much discomfort, we can put braces on in a short amount of time, and we use light, space-age wires that are very, very flexible,” he says.

2. Self-ligating braces

The most well established is the Damon brand, but all self-ligating braces work on the same principle: there’s no need for ties or elastic bands, because the wire connecting the brackets slides as teeth shift. Because of the braces’ gentle movement and self-expansion, office visits can be cut down to once every eight weeks. Damon is sometimes preferred for individuals with tooth crowding (too many teeth)—easier than pulling teeth, indeed.

3. Invisalign approach

The Invisalign brand crafts a series of removable, clear aligners, which are custom-made from your child’s tooth impressions. Aligners are replaced every three weeks or so, until teeth are straight. There are no wires and no metal bits. To use this treatment method, kids must demonstrate responsibility. The trays must be worn for at least 22 hours a day and may only be removed when eating.

4. Incognito Orthodontic Braces

These braces and wires are attached to the back of the teeth, rendering them almost invisible to others. Computer-based imaging technology creates brackets customized to each tooth’s shape and size. This new approach works well for older teens who have no baby teeth remaining.

5. SureSmile braces

With SureSmile, your tween’s orthodontist uses a light scan to obtain a 3-D image of the teeth and creates a personalized, virtual model for desired tooth movement. Then, a robot (yes, a robot!) bends an alloy wire based on the treatment plan. Mom Lori Mina signed her son Jayme up for the SureSmile treatment plan at age 13, after his adult molars came in. She calculates that SureSmile was about 10 percent more expensive, but that using this method cut down on the number of appointments and the treatment time by about six months.

6. Other colorful choices

Bored by chrome? Kids today can also choose tooth-colored and clear brackets. The thin metal wires are still visible—but less obvious. If you’ve got an unlimited budget, consider 24-karat gold braces. Wild Smiles offers heart-, football-, and flower-shaped silver brackets, along with four other fun shapes. They go on like regular metal braces, but they’re just a bit more fun. Orthodontists don’t always stock this brand, but the brackets can be special-ordered.

Which Option Should You Pick?

It’s up to you and your orthodontist to decide which method is right for your child. Your child’s pearly whites don’t have an opinion. “The tooth doesn’t know what’s moving it,” Dr. Bray says, so comfort and aesthetics can also be considered.

However, some methods are better than others for either simple or complex changes to the bite, tooth alignment, and tooth straightening. An orthodontist can tell you, for example, whether your child’s bite could benefit more from SureSmile, traditional metal braces, or Invisalign. And some methods can only be used on older teens or tweens whose adult teeth have come in. As for cost, request a side-by-side cost comparison before making your decision.

At the end of treatment, will your tween smile her way through adolescence?  Orthodontists can’t guarantee a grin, but even her pout will be prettier.

The First Orthodontist Appointment

Orthodontists suggest a child’s first visit should be around age 7 to address problems (and finances) over the next 5 to 7 years. Some children are fast-tracked into braces, particularly for bite or tooth-crowding issues. Others can wait until age 12 or so, after the adult teeth have come in.

Lora Shinn writes for magazines such as Parenting, KIWI, and Pregnancy. She spent her tween and teen years in various orthodontic appliances; she’s glad her days of heavy metal are over.