Navigating the landscape of adolescent emotions can be tricky. Teens and pre-teens alike have to contend with peer pressure, academics, and social expectations – not to mention orthodontics. Unless you know how to manage a conversation about braces for children, you may have a recipe for disaster. At Central Texas Orthodontics in Austin, TX, we want to help you successfully meet this hurdle.
Braces for Children: How Do I Prepare My Child?
The idea of braces – and having a mouthful of metal – can cause real anxiety for kids. The best way to prepare them is by speaking openly and honestly before their fitting. We’ve outlined here some crucial topics to talk about with one goal in mind: to assuage the fear of life with braces.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
Set aside plenty of time for this first discussion and encourage your child to ask all their questions. In turn, give the best answers you have at your disposal, and always be honest. Many times, for example, children want to know why they can’t simply live with their teeth the way they are.
We’ll cover the importance of healthy teeth later, but this is a great opportunity to explain that treating orthodontic problems now can prevent more extensive and painful therapy later – like tooth extractions. While these are sometimes necessary, extractions can eventually cause biting problems and make it difficult to properly brush. It’s best to keep the teeth you have and ensure they’re as healthy as possible.
Explain the Expectations
Once we decide that braces are needed, your child will likely tune out as we discuss the goals of treatment. This is a natural reaction, and we completely understand.
Once you’re home and planning for the therapy ahead, however, it’s a good idea to reiterate the expected outcome. Having this information will help your child understand why he or she needs braces.
Make Ready For Numerous Visits
Your child will need a series of regularly-scheduled appointments in our office after his or her initial fitting. By discussing this with them, you keep them in the loop and eliminate any surprises down the road.
Each of these appointments – or adjustments – will typically last around 30 minutes. In addition to changing elastic bands, you can explain that we might also use this time to:
- Remove wires or trim the archwire
- Give your child a chance to brush and floss
- Make recommendations, such as adding rubber bands and/or replacing wires
Children have a way of thinking they’re the only ones going through a rough patch, and they may feel isolated as a result. But you can tell them they’re definitely not alone in needing braces. Around 75 percent of all kids – usually between ages 12 and 15 – require this therapy.
Let your child know that earlier treatment is less painful and far less time-consuming than having braces in adulthood. The jaw is still malleable in youth, and moving teeth early provides better face symmetry for later in life.
Talk About Foods
Thanks to the media, most teens assume they’ll only be eating pudding and sipping chicken broth for the duration of treatment. This concept makes it even harder to think of braces in a positive way. But presenting your child with concrete facts can dispel myths and make braces seem much more manageable.
It’s true that certain foods can cause damage to the hardware in braces. These include excessively hard and sticky options, so gum and ice are out, but that doesn’t mean your child can’t eat anything they like. Here’s a shortlist of foods that should be omitted from meals and snacks; discussing them prior to treatment can make the transition into braces easier for your child.
- Hard, sticky candy like taffy
- Hard or sticky chocolate and caramel
- Hard taco shells
- Corn chips
- Hard crackers and cookies
Foods That Should Be Cut
By cut, we don’t mean eliminated but instead chopped into smaller pieces that don’t require biting with the front teeth. This minimizes the potential for damage to your child’s braces. You and your child should both be prepared to use a knife on these foods:
- Baguettes/Italian bread/bagels
- Hard rolls
- Raw vegetables
- Corn on the cob
- Crusty pizza
- Sub sandwiches
Because they don’t put a strain on braces, soft foods are ideal. However, this doesn’t mean they have to comprise every meal or snack. It’s OK to mix the above list of foods with those that follow. Let your child know the foods he or she will be able to freely eat include:
- Pitless fruits, including grapes and bananas
- Mashed potatoes/sweet potatoes
- Pasta dishes such as macaroni and cheese
- Peanut butter and jelly
None of these lists are all-inclusive. They’re simply provided as guidelines to get the conversation flowing between you and your child. In addition, use the time you have now to plan some of your post-treatment meals. This will allow you and your child to focus on the newness of having braces in those first few days and weeks.
You can also plan to have smoothies as after-school or after-sports snacks. They are soft, nutritious, and as a bonus, cold enough to relieve the discomfort braces sometimes yield. Before your child’s fitting, the two of you should review some recipes and have the ingredients in-house so he or she can make these treats once the braces are in place.
Know How to Combat Discomfort
In managing braces for children, it’s important to acknowledge that some discomfort might be felt throughout treatment. The metal can irritate mouth tissue, and if you talk about this with your child before the fitting appointment, you will eliminate much of their fear. You can also plan how you’ll relieve this pain using some of the options below.
Orthodontic wax is completely natural and can eliminate some of the friction that occurs between braces and the mouth. Show this wax to your son or daughter before their braces are on so they can see and touch it. In other words, so they can become familiar with it.
Using this treatment is easy. Simply soften it in your fingertips and then apply it to the hardware or component that’s causing trouble. Having this on hand will provide safe and effective relief from pain and also reassure your child that braces are not the end of the world. For times when they’re away from the house, plan to give them extra wax to carry in their bag.
An oral anesthetic – which you can pick up from a local drugstore – can also ease pain. Be prepared by keeping one or two tubes in the house. It’s as easy to apply as wax – simply squeeze some onto your child’s finger or a cotton swab and put it on the afflicted spot.
OTC pain medications, cold water, and ice packs can also soothe a sore mouth. Again, review these suggestions with your child. Even better, brainstorm a list of pain-relieving ideas together, write them down, and put that list in a visible part of the house, such as on the refrigerator. This reinforces the notion that help is always available.
It’s important for you and your child to remember that any pain or discomfort will be short-lived. This normally occurs immediately after the fitting and adjustments and clears within just a day or two. Include this information when you talk to your child about braces so he or she understands their mouth won’t be in a constant state of agony.
Discuss the Need for Oral Care
It may not sound like the most exciting conversation in the world, but talking to your child about the need for strong oral hygiene can remind them that every part of their body needs to be looked after. In particular, problems in adulthood can often be prevented with strong oral care in adolescence.
How do braces fit into this equation? They minimize the risk of tooth decay and force your child to develop brushing and flossing habits at a young age. They also reduce the likelihood of developing jaw problems and headaches that result from misalignments, such as underbites and overbites. Share this information with your child, and be candid.
Focus On the Benefits
Braces come with a slew of benefits that kids rarely think of. Perhaps at the top of the list is the straight, beautiful smile they create that will last a lifetime. Talking about this can help your son or daughter get excited about their results.
You can further discuss the improved confidence they’ll feel, and how this will help them to reach crucial milestones like senior pictures, prom, and graduation. They’ll also enjoy improved health, as straight teeth can chew food in a way that is necessary for proper digestion. Additional benefits you can share include:
- Choice of colored rubber bands for braces
- Improved speech and enunciation
- Prevention of tooth and jawbone erosion
- Improved facial symmetry
Remind Them Life Goes On
Even with braces for children, it’s possible to live life normally. For example, kids can continue to play sports without missing a beat – although they’ll likely need a mouthguard. The same is true of those in choir, theater, band, and all other extracurricular activities. Braces don’t occlude, and it’s imperative that you remind your child of this.
Children can also take full advantage of technology, such as phones and tablets, to record their journeys. Together, you can plan to make a digital scrapbook that includes photos, videos, and silly snapshots so they have memories of this time. Preparing to create something like this can make the whole concept of braces seem much more fun.
What Not to Do
Also remember to review with them this short – but important – list of things not to do with braces. At the top of this list is drink sugary, carbonated sodas. The acid from a soda can damage braces and get under the hardware to cause cavities. This is a big no-no.
Nor should kids use their teeth to open bags, cans, or other items. This should be avoided anyway, but doing it with braces can cause wires to accidentally pop out of place. Similarly, kids shouldn’t grind their teeth or forget to floss. Open discussions about these topics can let your child know you’re vested in their success.
Remove the Stigma
Around 4 million people in the U.S. wear braces. In letting your child know this, you remove the stigma that may be attached to these appliances. You can further prepare them by using open dialogue in which they’re comfortable to voice their concerns and ask questions.
Remember, the point of braces for children is to provide them with healthier and more confident smiles. Let your child know you’re taking this journey with them, and they’ll feel more than prepared. Now that you’re both ready, call Central Texas Orthodontics in Austin, TX, today and schedule that appointment.