Today my 13-year-old daughter got her braces off. Woo hoo!
"They were just annoying," she says. "Who wants pieces of metal on their teeth for three years?"
Sure, the braces hurt a bit when they got tightened. But they were worth it, she says. "I wouldn't want crooked teeth for my whole life."
Luckily, for her generation, far fewer kids get teased about metal mouths and tinsel teeth. After all, braces are common now. In 2010 (the most recent year available), members of the American Association of Orthodontists were treating about 8.2 percent of U.S. children ages 8 to 17.
That figure seems surprisingly low. But it doesn't include kids who get orthodontic treatment from pediatric or general dentists. My daughter thinks closer to nine out of 10 students at her school wear braces.
They seem almost hip. After all, everyone from the actress Dakota Fanning to Princess Eugenie to Madonna's daughter Lourdes Leon to Fantasia from "American Idol" has revealed a silver smile. And the singer Carrie Underwood even told InStyle magazine that her smile - which she said was courtesy of her orthodontist - was her favorite body part.
Of course, these folks can afford braces, which can be an expensive rite of passage for people with more normal incomes. Still, compared to college tuition, $5,000 (or more) per mouth starts to seem like a bargain.
My husband and I never wore braces. Like many others from our generation, we don't boast absolutely perfect teeth, by 2012 standards. But they're not bad. Will we ever opt for orthodontic work and make braces a family affair? Probably not.
Yet these days many adults do choose to get braces when they're well past their teen years. And why not? They've had plenty of celebrity role models such as Tom Cruise, Danny Glover, Faye Dunaway, and Nicholas Cage. (The president of the American Association of Orthodontists told WebMD that adults now represent nearly 20 percent of braces wearers.)
The braces-are-no-big-deal attitude seems to have been around even a decade ago. In fact, in a 2003 study conducted for the American Association of Orthodontists, 86 percent of moms said braces were cooler then than when they were kids. And 69 percent said wearing them made their kids feel cool. Also, 78 percent of moms who had braces when they were kids said they were one of the best investments their parents made for them.
They make teeth look better - but they also make it easier to bite, chew, floss, and brush. And they're available not just in the traditional silver. Many people get clear, plastic, custom-made aligners, like Invasalign. And some even get brackets and wires that are hidden behind their teeth instead of on the front of them. (Do these folks still cheer on "braces off" day?)
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