The teen years are a time when you may begin to focus more on your appearance, and there is no doubt that your smile is one of the first things that people notice about you. Whether you have a presentation to give in class or are just hanging out with your friends, being able to smile with confidence is important.
While a few crooked baby teeth were no big deal when you were little, you may find yourself worrying as your adult teeth come in. Often, your permanent teeth do not come in perfectly straight. You may also worry about having an underbite or overbite that affects your overall facial shape. In severe cases, you may even have teeth that never fully erupted.
The good news is that you are at one of the prime times in your life when orthodontic treatment is the most effective. You also have multiple options for straightening your teeth so that you can pick the one that works best for you. Keep in mind, however, that orthodontic treatment requires a personalized touch. Now that you are interested in improving your smile, you can use this guide to understand what to expect with teeth straightening as a teenager.
The Ideal Age to See an Orthodontist
In the past, people waited until almost all of the permanent teeth came in before they saw an orthodontist. However, it is now recommended that children schedule their first visit to the orthodontist as early as the age of seven. While children this young may not begin treatment, it helps to have an idea of what to expect as they get older. Orthodontists can also address behaviors at this age that affect oral development. For example, giving a child tools to stop thumb sucking helps prevent overbites.
If you didn’t make it to the orthodontist that early, then you don’t have to worry. There is still plenty of time to get started with your care. Most people begin orthodontic treatment in their early teen years around the age of twelve or thirteen. Others wait until they are a little bit older. Teens who are older tend to be more mature and capable of caring for their braces with fewer reminders compared to younger kids. However, you may have a few extra concerns regarding things such as how to keep your braces in good condition when you play sports if you are an older teen.
Reasons to Start Orthodontic Treatment as a Teen
Crooked or misaligned teeth are more than just an aesthetic concern. The alignment of your teeth also affects things such as how you speak and chew your food. Teeth that are too close together or far apart can trap food between them that is hard to remove with normal toothbrushing and flossing. Eventually, this type of issue can lead to an increased risk for tooth decay. While you naturally want a smile that you enjoy seeing in the mirror, it also helps to know that getting your teeth straightened can improve your overall oral health.
Getting braces as a teenager also helps to prevent damage to your teeth that occurs when they are misaligned. For instance, an incorrect bite can place too much pressure on certain parts of the teeth. When this happens, the forces that occur as you chew your food can cause your teeth to develop fractures or break completely. Fixing your misaligned bite now helps you to avoid having to repair your teeth in the future.
You should also feel comfortable with your appearance. While you should never let embarrassment about your teeth stop you from doing the things that you love, you may feel awkward smiling as you talk to your friends. You may also dread having to see your smile in photographs, and the teen years are a prime time for events that require you to flash your pearly whites for a professional photographer. From senior pictures to prom night, having straight teeth will have you ready to give your biggest smile.
Different Types of Braces
Now that you understand the benefits of getting braces as a teen, you are ready to begin thinking about what type of orthodontic appliance you need to get. Today, there are several different options for orthodontic treatment from which you can choose to improve your smile. As you explore these types, keep in mind that your orthodontist will recommend the right ones to fit your oral health needs and lifestyle.
- Traditional metal – This type is one that you are likely already familiar with. Metal braces use silver brackets and wires to help move your teeth into the right places. This type of braces has benefits such as staying in your mouth so that you never forget to put them back in place after you eat. However, they are the most visible type of braces and may not be ideal if you have high aesthetic needs.
- Clear plastic aligners – This new type of braces has revolutionized how you can straighten your teeth. Invisalign aligners fit over your teeth, and they are designed to apply gentle pressure in specific areas that push them into alignment. While these have benefits such as being practically invisible, your dentist may not always prefer them for teens simply because they require you to remember to wear them consistently. They may also not be an option if you have severely misaligned teeth.
- Ceramic braces – These braces work very similarly to traditional metal braces. However, the brackets are made from a tooth-colored material that blends into your smile. While people can see the braces up close, they may be a better option compared to metal if you prefer to have a more discreet form of treatment.
- Lingual braces – if you have crooked teeth that require treatment with metal braces, you may still have the option of keeping them hidden. Lingual braces are placed on the back side of your teeth so that the visible part of your smile remains free of any appliances. While these braces have the benefit of letting you keep your treatment hidden, you do need to understand that they require some extra effort to keep clean.
Factors to Consider When Deciding Upon Treatment
While it would be great if everyone could have the type of braces that they prefer, the truth is that there are factors that will influence the type that your orthodontist recommends. However, they may be able to offer you several options, depending upon your needs. As you prepare for your initial consultation for braces, you should be aware of these factors that could come into play.
- Your Teeth Alignment – The most important factor that affects your treatment is the way that your teeth are aligned in your mouth. Severe gaps or overlapping teeth simply require longer and more intensive treatment. For major misalignments, you may need to use traditional braces or even utilize other options such as a palatial expander before you move forward with other teeth straightening methods. In some cases, you may even have your treatment done in phases. Milder cases of crooked teeth will typically require less intensive treatments, which may mean that you will have more options available to choose from.
- Your Commitment to Follow the Plan – You pay a big role in the outcome of your treatment. Once the braces are put on your mouth, you will be shown how to take care of your teeth and keep the appliances clean. In most cases, you will need to add one or more steps to your oral hygiene routine. This means that you must ask questions if you do not understand the recommendations for your new oral hygiene care plan. You may also need to set up reminders for yourself to help you remember to do tasks such as soak your clear plastic aligners.
- Your Family’s Concerns About Cost – While you might be willing to pay anything to have straighter teeth, your parents may need to stick to a budget. Most of the options fall close within the same cost range. However, traditional metal braces tend to be slightly less expensive than clear plastic aligners.
- Your Lifestyle – Your daily activities also help to determine which type of braces is best for you. For example, you may prefer to have clear plastic aligners that you can remove easily if you play contact sports that could cause damage to metal braces. Alternatively, metal braces are best if you live a busy life where it is too easy to forget to put clear aligner trays back into your mouth.
What to Expect During the Straightening Process
Once you choose your braces, you enter the next phase of your treatment. The straightening process is different depending upon the type of braces that you wear. With metal braces, you will have the brackets placed on your teeth with a special cement that is removable after your treatment. These brackets hold wires, and you may have brackets on all of your teeth or just a few. Metal braces require you to return to the dental office regularly to have them checked and tightened.
Treatment with clear aligner trays begins with a special mold being made of your mouth that is used by the laboratory to make the customized braces. Your dentist may also make a 3-D image of your mouth that lets you see what your smile will look like after you complete your treatment. Once your trays arrive, your dentist will then make sure that the first one fits correctly. You will then wear your trays the majority of the day and overnight. Ideally, they should be worn about 22 hours of each day, which means that you should only remove them briefly for activities such as eating. Although your aligners do not need to be tightened, you will need to visit your dentist regularly to check on the progress of your teeth movement.
Ways to Address Mild Discomfort
With all types of braces, you can expect to experience some mild symptoms as your teeth shift into place. Typically, any discomfort that you feel is most noticeable after you have your braces tightened or switch to a different type of tray. Most teenagers report feeling some soreness in their teeth. You might also experience a mild headache. In some cases, braces can also rub on the soft tissues of your inner cheeks or tongue. Your dentist can show you ways to ease the discomfort from rubbing with a special type of dental wax. You may also be advised to eat softer foods for the first day or two after tightening your braces, and over the counter pain relievers can help with things such as headaches.
Tips to Maintain Good Oral Hygiene
Proper oral hygiene is critical for a successful outcome for your treatment. Failing to brush your teeth with metal braces can sometimes lead to stains, and you need to keep your aligner trays clean to prevent having food stay stuck on your teeth for long periods of time. During your appointments, ask how to properly brush your teeth. You may need to use special tools such as slender brushes that are designed to fit beneath the wires and around the brackets.
As a teenager, you also lead a busy life that may include needing to attend school, go to work and be at extracurricular activities. This can make it hard to keep up with your oral hygiene routine. Try packing a portable hygiene kit that you can leave in your backpack or purse. This kit should have travel-sized items that you can use to brush your teeth anytime that you have a few spare minutes. At home, you can make it easy to stick to your routine by setting up a place that has everything you need in one area. This also makes it easier to keep up with supplies such as rubber bands for your braces or the next sets of aligner trays.
How to Preserve Your Beautiful Smile
When you are young, wearing braces for several months feels like a long time. However, sticking to your treatment plan is the best way to get a beautiful smile that lasts. Following your initial treatment phase, you will move to the retainment period. During this time, your dentist will likely recommend that you wear a retainer or a final set of clear aligner trays to help you keep your teeth in their new positions. At first, you may need to wear this appliance for most of the day and night. However, most people eventually move to wearing their retainer only at night. Make sure to stick to this part of your plan since it gives you the best long term prospects for preserving your smile. You will also want to keep up with your regular dental visits and cleanings. Losing a single tooth to decay can cause all of the others to shift back out of place. Having your dentist check your teeth regularly allows you to address small issues early before they have an impact upon your overall smile.
By the time that you reach your teens, you can likely already see a few things that you would like to change about your smile. Make sure to let your dentist know if your smile makes you feel self-conscious so that you can work together to find your best teeth straightening option.