Some kids can't wait to get braces. Others are a little worried about what it will be like or how they will look. It can help to learn more about braces, which straighten your teeth and make your smile even better looking.
Lots of kids don't have perfect teeth, so don't worry if yours aren't straight. Take a look at most of your classmates. Many of them probably don't have straight teeth either. Sometimes teeth just don't grow in evenly.
Your teeth might be crooked, or your upper and lower jaws might not be the same size. If your upper jaw is bigger than your lower jaw, that's called an overbite. If your lower jaw is bigger than your upper jaw, you have an underbite.
Either way it's called malocclusion (say: mal-uh-kloo-zhun), a word that comes from Latin and means "bad bite." Malocclusion is just a word that dentists use to describe the shape of your mouth.
Your dentist might notice one of these problems during a regular visit and recommend that you see an orthodontist (say: or-thoh-dahn-tist). This person may also be called a braces specialist. He or she can determine whether you need braces.
Types of Braces
If your parents had braces, you may have seen pictures of them with their mouths full of metal. Today, braces are much less noticeable. Metal braces are still used, but you might be able to get clear braces or braces that are the same color as your teeth. There are even braces that go behind your teeth where no one can see them.
The wires that are used in braces today are also smaller and better than they used to be, and they're made of a space-age material that straightens your teeth faster and easier. The rubber bands that go along with braces come in funky colors now, too. So you could have black and orange ones for Halloween!
How Braces Work
Braces straighten teeth by putting steady pressure on your teeth and by staying in place for a certain amount of time. Most kids just need regular braces with wires and rubber bands doing their jobs to keep pressure on the teeth. The wires on your braces help to move your teeth, and the rubber bands help to correct the alignment (say: uh-lyne-munt), the way your teeth line up.
If your teeth need a little extra help, you may have to wear head or neck gear with wires attached to your teeth. If you do have to wear headgear, don't panic! You probably will only have to wear it at night or when you're at home in the evening.
Everyone has to wear braces for different lengths of time, but most people usually wear braces for about 2 years. You'll want to take special care of your teeth after the braces come off. You may need to wear a retainer, which is a small, hard piece of plastic with metal wires or a thin piece of plastic shaped like a mouth guard. Retainers make sure your teeth don't go wandering back to their original places. Your retainer will be specially molded to fit your newly straightened teeth.
After you get your retainer, your orthodontist will tell you when you have to wear it and how long — you might have to wear your retainer all day and all night for 2 years, you might have to wear it at night for 6 months, or you might have to wear it every other night for many years. It just depends on your teeth.
Life With Braces
Braces act like magnets for food, so you need to keep your teeth especially clean while you have them on. You'll want to brush after meals and be extra careful to get out any food that gets stuck in your braces. Your orthodontist also may give you a special flosser you can use to floss in and around your braces. When your orthodontist changes your wires, ask if you can do a quick floss (it'll be easier without the wires).
You won't have to go on any special diet when you have braces, but you'll want to avoid some foods that are problems for braces. Stay away from popcorn, hard and sticky candy, and especially gum. Sugary sodas and juices can cause a problem, too, because the sugar stays on your teeth and may cause tooth decay. You can have these drinks, but be sure to brush afterward.
Because braces put pressure on your teeth, you might feel uncomfortable once in a while, especially after the orthodontist makes adjustments. If you have pain, ask your mom or dad to give you a pain reliever.
If you ever have a loose wire or bracket, or a wire that is poking you, you should see the orthodontist right away to get it taken care of. If your orthodontist can't find a problem, he or she may give you some soft wax that you can stick on the bracket that's bothering you. Then it won't rub against your mouth.
So braces can be inconvenient, but lots of kids have them and they are definitely worth the trouble. When will you know for sure? On the day your braces are removed and you can see your new and improved smile!
Reviewed by: Lisa A. Goss, RDH, BS, and Charlie J. Inga, DDS
Date reviewed: September 2007
Originally reviewed by: Lisa A. Goss, RDH, BS, and Garrett B. Lyons Sr., DDS