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Willis-Knighton Health System

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Braces

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.

Why Do Kids Need Braces?

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, who also might be called a braces specialist, can find out whether you need braces.

What Do Braces Look Like?

Most braces are metal, like you’ve probably seen on other kids. But some braces are clear or the same color as your teeth. There are even braces that go behind your teeth where no one can see them.

The wires used in braces today are smaller and better than they used to be. They're made of material that straightens your teeth faster and easier. The rubber bands that go along with braces come in funky colors too. So you could have black and orange ones for Halloween!

How Do Braces Work?

Braces straighten teeth by putting steady pressure on them and by staying in place for a set 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 fix the alignment (say: uh-LYNE-munt), which is the way your teeth line up.

Some kids have to wear headgear or neckgear with wires attached to their teeth. If you do have to wear headgear, don't panic! You probably will only have to wear it while you sleep or when you're at home in the evening.

Kids wear braces for different lengths of time, but most usually wear them 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 mouthguard. 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 for how long. You might wear your retainer all day and all night for 2 years; you might wear it at night for 6 months; or you might wear it every other night for many years. It just depends on your teeth.

What’s It Like to Have 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.

You won't have to go on any special diet when you have braces, but you'll want to avoid 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 every so often, but be sure to brush afterward.

Because braces put pressure on your teeth, it might feel uncomfortable once in a while, especially right after the orthodontist makes adjustments. If you have pain, ask your mom or dad to give you a pain reliever. Soft, cool foods can also help.

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, they 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: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: August 2020