Recent Technological Advances Make Braces More Comfortable,
Less Noticeable and Even Fashionable
If you’re like most parents, your memory of braces consists of a mouth full of metal, discomfort and frequent visits to the orthodontist that seemed to go on forever. However, things have changed since we were kids. Today, braces are smaller and less noticeable, and wires are thinner. The new nickel titanium wires are extremely flexible and gentler, reducing the soreness as the teeth begin to move.
Also, wires last longer than their predecessors long ago, which means treatment intervals are longer (approximately 6 to 8 weeks instead of the previous 3 to 4 week visits). Advanced wire technology has also reduced the treatment time. Kids today are getting earlier treatment, which sometimes prevents the need for braces, or reduces the amount of time they must wear them. Although metal brackets are still routinely used, trendier options also exist.
Kids Add Color to Their Teeth
Brackets are glued to the teeth to transmit force from the wires attached to them, causing the teeth to move. These wires are held in place with elastic ties, which have recently become available in a multitude of colors. “The colored elastic ties make the treatment a little more fun for the patients,” says Harold Middleberg, D.M.D., an orthodontist with private practices in Philadelphia and Hatboro, PA. Kids enjoy mixing and matching colors, and many children even change them at each adjustment.
“Some children wear red and green attachments at Christmas; black and orange at Halloween; and red, white and blue for patriotism,” says David Goodman, D.D.S., an orthodontist in private practice in Wilmington, DE. Others select the colors based on their favorite sports team or school colors.”
“One company even goes so far as to make individual tooth brackets in the form of stars,” says Philip T. Siegel, D.D.S, an orthodontist from Pediatric Dental Associates, LTD in Fort Washington, PA, Southampton, PA and Philadelphia. “Various dental laboratories are making multicolor retainers with pictures or different patterns embedded in the surface.”
According to Pam Paladin, Communications Coordinator of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), kids can get metal brackets that are gold plated, which give the illusion of “mouth jewelry.” They can even get gold wires!
Invisible Options to Straighten Teeth
In contrast to children who enjoy the bright-colored attachments and overt mouth jewelry, older teenage patients and adults often prefer a more subtle approach. Thanks to Invisalign®, many of them can now straighten their teeth without wires or brackets.
Invisalign® uses a series of clear, removable aligners that “move teeth by nudging them into position,” says M. Constance B. Greeley, D.D.S, an orthodontist with offices located in Wilmington and Newark, DE. The patient may have 15, 20 or more aligners in order to get the desired results, and wears each one for about two to three weeks. This treatment is most appropriate for patients with fully erupted molars, who don’t require jaw changes or complicated tooth movement.
Although younger children are not candidates for Invisalign®, they can still wear virtually invisible braces by getting tooth-colored, transparent ceramic brackets.
However, there are disadvantages of ceramic brackets. Earl B. Broker, D.D.S., an orthodontist with offices in Voorhees, NJ and Jenkintown, PA, prefers using the stainless steel braces for younger children because they are easier to maintain and clean, and in general hold up better than the ceramic brackets. In addition, they are easier to put on and remove. They are also less expensive.
The Digital Age of Braces
“Like the rest of the world, orthodontics has gone digital,” says Dr. Greeley. “We document patient information with digital photos and even digital models. Treatment planning can be done on-line (especially with Invisalign®) and information transmitted to the patients by web sites. In addition virtual study clubs help practitioners share information on difficult cases or discuss new procedures.” “Orthodontists who are moving into digital records can provide potential patients with a computer-generated photograph showing them how their teeth might look after the orthodontic treatment,” says Paladin. The AAO also provides this service free to anyone considering getting braces.
Cost Factors to Consider
Local orthodontists agree that the cost of braces can range from approximately $3,000 to $6,000 depending on the complexity and length of the treatment. Invisalign® is generally more expensive, but its cost also varies depending on the type of treatment. “Many insurance plans cover a portion of the orthodontic fee,” says Dr. Siegel. “Some offer discounted fees for patients treated by a participating provider. Other companies offer an annual health plan savings account that sets aside a certain amount of money earmarked for dental care. There are also direct reimbursement plans offered by employers that cover a considerable amount of the cost of treatment.” Invisalign® is usually covered by insurance to the same extent as conventional braces.
The First Orthodontist Visit
According to the AAO, children should have their first orthodontic screening no later than age 7. By this age, enough permanent teeth, including the first permanent molars, have come in and enough jaw growth has occurred that the dentist or orthodontist can identify problems, anticipate future problems and alleviate parents’ concerns if all seems normal. Orthodontists typically rely on family dentists to identify potential orthodontic problems and refer patients to them when necessary.
Problems can often be avoided if early orthodontic intervention is instituted. Early treatment presents an opportunity to guide the growth of the jaw, regulate the width of the upper and lower dental arches, guide incoming permanent teeth into desirable positions, correct harmful oral habits like thumb- or finger-sucking, reduce the likelihood of impacted permanent teeth and preserve or gain space for permanent teeth that are coming in.
Advantages of Orthodontic Treatment
Orthodontic treatment offers physical and emotional benefits. According to the AAO, straight teeth that are well aligned are easier to clean and maintain. Orthodontic problems can lead to abnormal wear of tooth surfaces; inefficient chewing function; excessive stress on the gum tissue and the bone supporting the teeth; or misalignment of the jaw joints, which can result in chronic headaches or pain in the face or neck. Many orthodontic problems become worse when left untreated.
According to Dr. Middleberg, there is a direct correlation between one’s appearance and self-esteem, and when someone has a nice smile with straight teeth, it increases that person’s confidence and self-worth.
So if your child does need some orthodontic treatment, stop basing your concerns about braces on your past experience, and start marveling at all the recent developments that will make your child’s experience with braces easier, faster, more comfortable, and most importantly, gratifying. After all, what can be more rewarding than a winning smile filled with healthy teeth! #