Who here had braces when you were growing up? It's okay; you can raise your hand. No one will make fun of you. No, really, no one will make fun of you. No one's going to call you "braceface" or "metal mouth" or ask what time your mouth train is scheduled to arrive.
Actually, I never had braces. I had what I consider to be a good dentist because, when the topic of braces came up, his response was, "He ["he" being me] doesn't need them [for any health reasons]. If you get them, it would be for purely cosmetic reasons." I've never been one for "appearances," meaning that I have some amount of disdain for people who will dismiss someone else based solely upon how that person looks, so I wasn't interested in having my teeth straightened for the sake of having my teeth straightened.
But I had plenty of friends with braces, and none of them had wanted to have them. Braces were something that was forced upon unsuspecting teenagers, and they universally hated the idea. The very lucky ones, like my cousin, got to wear headgear. "Fortunately," he only had to wear it to school for the first month or so of having it, but he had to wear the headgear to bed for something like two years.
And we haven't even mentioned retainers, yet. Retainers that I hated even without ever having to have one. However, it was a fairly frequent occurrence to have to dig through trash to find the accidentally dumped retainer that I hated them. And I had this one friend who thought it was the most hilarious thing ever to stick her retainer into people's food when they weren't looking. And it was... the first couple of times she did it to someone, but it got old. Let's just say that I never took a trip to the bathroom until I was all the way finished with my food.
All of that to say that braces were not something that made you popular, and you were bound to endure some amount of teasing if you got them.
But that was 30 years ago...
The other night at dinner, my daughter asked me, "When can I get braces?" and she doesn't even really "need" them. [She doesn't "need" them at all.] So why does she want braces? All of her friends have them. Some of her friends have had them since they were six or seven years old.
That age thing there is why we left our previous dentist. When my younger son was about eight, they started pressuring me every time I had them in to get braces for him. I was rather aghast about it the first time they broached the subject of "starting him on braces" as if it was some kind of vitamin supplement. The response I got to asking them why was something about how they, now, have stage one braces for baby teeth and stage two braces for adult teeth. They had no good answer for why I would want to straighten teeth which are just going to fall out other than "it's just better." Yeah, better for them, because they get money from me for that much longer.
So I did the research (because, and those of you who have been around long enough will know, I always do the research), and the current studies show that there is no discernible benefit for getting braces for your kid before their adult teeth are in. It just means that you will have to do two rounds of braces. Even without the expense, why would you want to do that to your kid?
I can tell you why:
Braces, now, are normal. And not just normal, not just acceptable, they are the preferred state. They are a status symbol of sorts, and they are expected, hence the question, "When can I get braces?" [Like the other question she asks all the time: When can I get a [cell] phone?] Her friends have not come to school in shame, trying to hide their mouths and keep from smiling, but have come to school showing them off, "Look! I got braces!" Like it was an ice cream cone or something.
And that just goes to show you how perceptions can change, rather like with the lobster. There was a time when lobsters were considered "low" food and some states had laws against feeding lobster to prisoners more than once or twice a week because it was "cruel and unusual punishment." What a long way we've come from that (though I still don't like lobster). There are countless other examples that I could make.
I don't have any other point to make of this. I just find this kind of thing -- I'll call it "social conditioning" -- interesting.