Monday, November 10, 2014

The Braces Paradigm

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.


  1. I don't like lobster either.
    Why do the kids need braces? Because the dentist can make more money that way.
    It's the normal? So is the claim every kid is ADHD and needs to be on Ritalin. But that doesn't make it right.

  2. I see absolutely no point in putting braces on teeth that are going to fall out--that's preposterous.

    I recently read a blog post from a young woman whose friend got glasses. She has 20/20 vision. As someone who has been wearing glasses since third grade, I asked, "Why would anyone WANT to wear them if they don't have to?" We seem compelled to want to change our appearance at will.

  3. never had braces. Can's imagine why anyone would want them, unless they desperately 'needed' them. They don't look very nice-- and I can imagine they don't feel nice inside the mouth either.

  4. I am not a fan of dentists. There was this dentist who wanted to have my wisdom teeth removed as soon as he spotted them, he was not even sure if they'd have enough space or not. "But just in case..." Just in case? So just in case, I go through all this pain (and money) of getting 4 teeth removed? I went to another dentist who accompanied me for a while and got a X-ray (easy, huh?) . Turns out I have more than space and they grew up healthily (all four of them). - never removed any.

    But I will stop rambling and get back to the topic.

    I did have braces when I was a kid, around 12 or 13 years old. I didn't want to (I always hated dentists since a kid) but my mom insisted. She told me I'd be thankful for her later. She wanted to have braces in kid but her parents didn't have enough money for that . I have to say I love my mom and she always helped me through everything in life but she is the most superficial and perfectionist person you could ever meet. Needless to say, I didn't even see anything wrong with my teeth in first place.

    I don't see why anyone would want to wear braces just for the sake of it, unless of course they need it: And if it's something that improves their self esteem , why not?

    I am not too sure if I agree about 'people dismissing other people solely based on looks'. I think it's a simple undeniable matter of attraction. I don't see people as ugly or pretty. I see as me being attracted to some people and not being attracted to others. Thankfully, this doesn't mean anything: what is unattractive/attractive to me, can be attractive/unattractive to someone else. I do think we are all superficial to a certain extent though.

  5. I never had braces either, but I know a lot of people who did. I must be closer to your daughter's generation because no one was ever made fun for having them. And it is beyond stupid to have braces for non-permanent teeth.

  6. Alex: Well, yeah, obviously, I agree.

    JeffO: I've known some people who wore glasses with no corrective lenses, too. It's kind of ridiculous. Okay, no, it is ridiculous.

    D: The statement, "I just got my braces tightened and can't eat solid food this week" (because it hurts too much) tells me they don't feel nice.

    Yessica: See, my dentist left my -one- wisdom tooth alone, too. He died, though, and the new dentist immediately wanted to pull it. His response to "why" was little better than "well... because."

    I'm not just talking about people that you meet when I say people being dismissed. An interesting study recently showed that people are way more likely to assume that a fat woman is guilty of a crime she's been charged with. As in, in a series of test cases (fake, but the jurors didn't know that), fat women were "convicted" more than 80% of the time whether they were "guilty" or not. Skinny (white) dudes, though, were proclaimed "innocent" at about the same 80% rate even when they were "guilty."
    Also, white men are much more frequently hired due to interviews, but, when you take out the interview process and judge solely off of resumes and actual ability to do the job, the percentage of white men hired drops radically.

    That's all appearance-based bias.

  7. Oh, also, fat people are almost universally seen as less intelligent than skinny people despite objective data which may show otherwise.

    Jeanne: You're probably somewhere right in between our ages, just after the shift. By the early 90s, the braces stigma was fading.

  8. I adore lobster! I wore a retainer to bed and am glad my teeth weren't snaggled like my mother's, but I can't imagine why a kid with normal teeth would want braces. (Or tattoos. Or body piercings.) Peeps be crazy. ;)

  9. Lexa: I look at my teeth like this: They are straight enough.

    Really, unless you're right up in my face, you can't tell, so what's the big deal?

  10. I never had braces and I should have. I've always felt embarrassed by my crooked teeth, too many of which are crowded into my mouth. Both of my children had braces, but there was no two stages thing. They didn't have enough room in their mouths for all their teeth. Rather than have eight or ten teeth pulled, the orthodontist very gently enlarged their jaws so they could keep all their teeth. They both have beautiful smiles, too.


  11. Holy! This is CRAZY… I never thought of this before, Andrew… what an interesting point… I had YEARS of braces… but I certainly needed it… and I am grateful now--but man. How interesting!

  12. I had my braces taken off about 4 years ago (after 2 and a half years), and I have to say my teeth are the greatest part of my body. Everyone has different opinions I suppose.

  13. Janie: My dentist said I had the most perfect set of -baby- teeth he'd ever seen.
    You know, it's never too late for braces if your teeth really do make you uncomfortable.

    Morgan: It is interesting. I'm all full of interesting thoughts.

    Gina: I'm not knocking braces themselves, just the attitude that they're a necessity. Like you can't grow up without them and, if you do, there's something wrong with you.

  14. It's a good idea to consult with a good dentist on whether or not your son really needs braces. Young kids see braces as a rite of passage nowadays, and sometimes having braces right now is a better prospect than having it later as an adult. But if he doesn't need it at all, then it would be such a waste to do so. Either way, I hope you get the best possible advice for your son. Good luck!

    Felipe Robertson @ Gerald Regni, DMD

  15. Felipe: Thanks for stopping by.
    I think the real problem is defining "need."

  16. Your post made me realize that in my five years in Japan, I have only ever seen a pair of braces ONCE, and those were on a 40-year-old woman.... Kids don't get braces here... in fact, they don't even brush (cause they're all going to fall out anyway :P )

  17. Alex H: That is really interesting. I mean interesting in that it's fascinating. I had no idea.

  18. I unfortunately fell into the category of people who NEEDED braces. I had them for 3 years, which can tell you a lot since most people who get them purely for aesthetic purposes only have them for 6-12 months.

    I've noticed the same braces/status thing myself. Glad it's not just me!

    Also, I've never had lobster. I don't know if I like it or not. I do like crab, though, so I would probably like lobster.

  19. Rebekah: Sometimes, I like crab. It really depends on the type and how it's prepared. I've never had lobster that I liked.

  20. Yeah, it's fascinating... but also really disconcerting when you're trying to teach and 1) the kid's breath travels the room and smells like what you'd expect plaque or puss to smell like, and 2) are stained the color of teeth that just met a crumbly chocolate cake.

    I've also seen mothers brushing their kids teeth FOR them, in a classroom. The child was about 5yo.

    But, crooked teeth is also a mark of "cuteness" over here, so that may be one of the reasons they don't get braces. (

  21. Alex: Maybe you should have an in-class gum chewing mandate. Chewing sugarless gum is supposed to really help with all kinds of mouth issues, including bad breath.