Wearing the Wires: Kids and Braces

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Once upon a time, kids who wore braces were teased by their peers with mean-spirited nicknames such as brace face, tinsel teeth, zipper lips and metal mouth. These days, however, braces have become seemingly as ubiquitous as eyeglasses, almost a rite of passage for American youth in their formative years. Studies have estimated anywhere from 50-70 percent of American children will wear braces between the ages of 6-18.

Children from ages 6-18 (and even some adults) typically get braces to correct malocclusions (i.e., bad bites). These jaw or tooth alignment problems are usually genetic, but can result from an injury, early or late tooth loss or thumb-sucking.1 Historically, most children started wearing braces in their early- and into mid-adolescent years, after all of their permanent teeth had erupted (ages 11-15), but in more recent years there has been a trend towards earlier intervention to take advantage of high rates of growth and to correct certain conditions that might otherwise adversely affect growth and development. Crowded, poorly-positioned teeth not only affect a child’s appearance, but can negatively impact the way a child bites, chews and speaks, and can increase the long-term potential for developing periodontal disease or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems.1

Whether or not they have braces, kids should always eat a healthy diet. In general, however, kids with braces should avoid foods that are difficult to bite off or chew, that may damage the braces, or that are difficult to clean from around the wires and attachment brackets. Foods like popcorn, corn on the cob, whole apples, sunflower seeds and sticky candy fall into these categories. It is also not a good idea to chew on ice, pencils or any other oral habits that can bend the wires or otherwise damage the appliances that go into moving teeth into proper position.2 Eating too many sticky and sugary foods is particularly damaging to children with braces, since plaque tends to build-up around the appliances and can lead to decay where the brackets are attached to the teeth.

Standard oral health care best practices apply to all children – with or without braces. This includes brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily, wearing a properly fitting mouthguard during contact sports, and making regular dental visits. Obviously brushing and flossing presents some challenges while wearing braces but the child’s dental team will usually provide the proper guidance on facing the challenges to good oral hygiene that wearing braces can present. This may include things like using fluoride rinses, floss threaders, interproximal cleaners, powered brushes or irrigators, dental wax and other tips for keeping the braces and teeth clean and wearing them comfortably.

A child’s teeth are often sore for a day or two after the braces are first put on or after an adjustment appointment. In addition, other typical problems that children may have to deal with include food caught between the teeth and appliance, one or more of the little rubber bands break that hold the wires to the bracket, a wire breaks and pokes into the cheek, a sore develops on the cheek or gum where something is rubbing.

1.American Dental Association. “Braces” http://www.mouthhealthy.org/az-topics/b/braces.aspx
2.American Dental Association 2010 Survey of Dental Practice
3.American Association of Orthodontists. http://www.mylifemysmile.org/faq

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