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Investing in your teen’s smile could mean a boost in his self-esteem and amazing results. But you and your kid probably have a lot of questions about what’s ahead. Here’s what you need to know:

It’s never too late. Orthodontists prefer to see kids by age 7 to identify and intercept developing issues; but teens should be evaluated, too. “Today we have many options, including alternatives to braces such as clear aligners that can be taken in and out,” says Christina R. Carter, DMD, a Morristown-based orthodontist and diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry. “We’ll work with you and your child to choose the best plan.”

They’re not just about aesthetics. Braces straighten teeth, but they also correct your child’s bite, which impacts his health over a lifetime. “How your teeth fit together affects how the jaw bones wear, and how you speak, chew and breathe,” says Carter.

They’re affordable. Fees vary based on complexity and length of treatment, says the American Association of Orthodontists. Insurance plans typically offer some coverage (usually a percentage of the fee or a cap at a specific dollar amount). Many orthodontists offer in-office financing with no interest.

It isn’t painful. “One of the most common questions I get is, ‘Is this going to hurt?’” says Carter. “I explain that it’s like going to the gym for the first time. At first, you’re a little uncomfortable, but in a few days, you adjust.”

Braces don’t stop kids from doing what they love. Teens can still play sports, but must wear mouth guards. Talk to your orthodontist about whether custom or boil-and-bite is best. And don’t worry about that marching band commitment, they can still play a musical instrument.

Some foods are no-no’s. Your teen should steer clear of foods that can damage braces. Super-crunchy snacks such as pretzels and nuts and sticky treats like caramels should be avoided. Cut foods like sandwiches and apples into pieces instead of biting into them whole.

Your teen needs to see a regular dentist, too. Once treatment starts, your teen will see the orthodontist every six to 10 weeks. But consistent checkups and cleanings are also musts. Cleanings are recommended every six months (sometimes more frequently depending on the kid). It’s also essential to brush and floss after meals and snacks and before bed. An electric toothbrush and special flossers make the job easier.

Results take time. Treatment takes about 18 months to two years. Some teens also need to wear a removable retainer after braces are off. If there’s grumbling, remind your child that a lot depends on following the treatment plan—and that a healthy, beautiful smile doesn’t happen overnight.

—Arricca Elin SanSone is a New York-based health and lifestyle writer.

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