The Teenager’s Guide to Prepping for Braces

August 18, 2016

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When you’re not even driving yet, and your dentist says you need braces, it’s natural to be curious about what to expect.

There are definitely some important things to know before going on the journey of wearing braces. After all, this is a big change during a time in your life when it seems like every other day brings a brand new experience! To maintain good oral health throughout the process, you’ll need to know what to expect and how to prepare.

You’re not alone

The fact is, approximately 1 in every 8 teens between the ages of 12 and 18 wear braces. It’s not uncommon at all. And, even the most basic modern braces are smaller and less obtrusive than they were when your parents had to wear them.

You have options

Also, it’s important to realize that wearing braces doesn’t have to result in feelings of insecurity. There are options, ranging from traditional metal braces to ceramic braces (with clear brackets), lingual braces (that are installed on the inside surface of the teeth), and Invisalign braces (which are completely invisible, though they usually take slightly longer to work.)

Above all else, try to keep in mind how stellar your smile will look once you’re done wearing them!

It’s a commitment

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Once you get your braces on, it means about 1-3 years of wearing them on average. During that time, you’ll need to revisit your orthodontist every 4 to 8 weeks for small adjustments to account for movement of the teeth.

You will also need to commit to new and improved brushing and flossing habits to ensure your teeth stay clean and healthy throughout the alignment process.

Know how it works

Essentially, braces change the shape of your jaw and align your teeth by:

  • Applying metal and cement to your teeth
  • Routinely tightening the pressure of the appliance so it is always aligning your teeth
  • Slowly causing your body to move teeth and reform jaw bone tissue behind it to fill the gap that is constantly being formed.

It can be uncomfortable at times, especially in the day or two immediately following an adjustment. You may have wire and brackets rubbing against the inside surface of your lips and/or cheeks or tongue, which can cause irritation and soreness also.

In all these, cases, however, the pain is usually mild and temporary. It’s very rare for it to be strong enough that simple over-the-counter painkillers won’t resolve it. If it is, your orthodontist may be able to make another adjustment to make you more comfortable.

"It can be uncomfortable at times, especially in the day or two immediately following an adjustment."

Consider your diet

Reasonably, there are certain foods and drinks that are going to be limited while you’re wearing your braces, both to protect the braces from damage and to ensure your teeth remain healthy and strong during the whole process.

You’ll need to be very careful with anything hard and crunchy or extremely gooey. The following examples were provided by Stoll Orthodontics, but you should get a similar and more complete list from your personal orthodontist when you get your braces.

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Some of the top offenders that can ruin braces are:

  • Popcorn
  • Pizza crust
  • Crusty bread, including bagels
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Ice
  • Beef jerky
  • Taffy
  • Hard candy

Other foods that may not ruin braces, but that will make your braces difficult to clean are:

  • Chewing gum
  • Stringy meats
  • Gummy bears (if they’re soft)
  • Soft caramels

In other cases, foods are perfectly fine for braces, but you may have to change how you eat them. For instance, biting into a whole apple or corn straight from the cob can do damage, but taking a few moments to cut them up can protect teeth.

Finally, it’s important to realize that the fact that braces will inevitably make it more difficult to effectively clean your teeth, so it’s wise to cut way down on anything highly acidic or sugary, because your teeth are already more susceptible to cavities and gum disease with braces.

Which brings us to our final point.

Prioritize caring for your oral health

You’ve probably been brushing your teeth habitually for years now. But once you have braces, it’s important to think much more seriously about brushing and flossing until you’ve developed some new habits.

As noted above, the fact that there’s metal and cement in your mouth automatically makes brushing and flossing more difficult than it used to be. And that means you’re already more prone to getting cavities or developing other oral health issues.

Your orthodontist will provide detailed instruction and likely introduce you to some specialized tools for effective cleaning of your teeth once your braces are on. The key is to take it slow, be methodical, and be sure to clean every surface of your teeth as well as the spaces in between. The braces serve as obstacles, so you need to be careful and really make an effort every time you brush.

High-quality, sugar-free mouthwashes are great for times when you can’t brush immediately, but don’t make the mistake of relying on rinsing or gargling instead of effectively brushing and flossing your teeth.

You can do it

All of this being said, millions of young men and women successfully handle the added responsibility of wearing and caring for braces every year, and they come out the other end with beautiful, strong, and healthy teeth.

A note for parents:

We all know teenagers can use a reminder now and then as their life gets busier. Try to help them form new eating and oral care habits and make sure they prioritize their regular orthodontist visits appropriately.

Be a good listener and supporter, especially right at the beginning of their journey with braces, since self-esteem is an important factor in your teen’s life.

Finally, understand that braces are a significant expense. The average cost of the least expensive style of standard braces can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000.

Realizing this fact, many orthodontists have financing programs available, and a dental savings card can help greatly as well. In the end, your child going to look better, feel better, and be healthier as a result of this investment on your part.
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