It plays out like a horror film. You’re in the chair at the dentist having a routine check-up, then they lean over you, their masked faces eclipsing the blinding light overhead, and mumble the words no teenager wants to hear: “You need braces”. Dun dun duuuuun.
Of course, the chances are you’ve known braces were on the cards for a while, but that didn’t stop you secretly hoping your teeth would somehow get it together and sort themselves out, right? Because, let’s be honest, no one wants braces.
But while there’s a lot of doom and gloom around them (no-one’s gonna expect you to be cheerful about it), they’re not the total worst. Trust me on this – I’ve had braces twice.
Plus, if this is to be your dental destiny, you’re in good company. The likes of Gwen Stefani, Emma Watson, Estelle and even Miley Cyrus have all rocked tinsel teeth at some point in their careers, and more than 200,000 people under 18 get braces every year in the UK. So you’re not alone.
Here’s everything you need to know to book your ticket to Straight Smile City.
What do braces do?
Braces work by gradually moving the position of your teeth. They’re mainly known for straightening crooked teeth, but they can be fitted for a bunch of other things too, such as correcting over/underbites, to make space for misbehaving wisdom teeth or to help fix jaw problems.
What types of braces are there?
You’re probably most familiar with the ol’ metal train track braces – these are the most common and the ones usually offered by the NHS to patients under 18. But thanks to cool developments in science and technology, they’re no longer the only orthodontic option.
You can also get white braces (like the metal ones but less visible), clear braces (which are basically like invisible, removable gum shields) and back braces (which are worn behind the teeth). These other options are only available privately though, which means they’re pricey, and they aren’t suitable for everyone.
How long are they worn for?
This really depends on your own dental sitch. The NHS gives an average of 18 months to two years, but it could be longer (or shorter) based on the work you need doing. I first got braces when I was 14 and – full disclaimer – my teeth were a mess, so I had them for about two and a half years. The second time around, at the grand age of 29, I just needed a few adjustments so it only took four months.
Why did I get braces for a second time, you ask? Because after my first lot of treatment I was given a retainer to wear to stop my teeth from shifting back into their original position (because that’s what teeth like to do, apparently). And guess what? I didn’t wear the retainer.
ALWAYS WEAR THE RETAINER.
Are they difficult to look after?
If you’re normally on top of your dental hygiene then you’re golden. That said, the little brackets and wires do make it harder to give your teeth a really good clean. You want to make sure you’re getting rid of the bits of food and plaque that can build up around the metal, otherwise you might be left with a bit of staining when your braces eventually come off. You can buy pipe-cleaner-style flossing sticks that are really good for this (your dentist will tell you which ones are best for you).
Also, avoid toothpaste or mouthwash that have whitening agents in them – they might make the bits of teeth you can see a few shades lighter, but they won’t reach the bits of enamel behind the brackets, so you’ll end up with discolouration.
Do they interfere with everyday life?
Ok, real talk. When you first get braces your mouth is going to feel weird, but you get used to it really quickly and pretty soon they’re just ‘there’. No biggie. There are some foods you should probably avoid – anything really crunchy or chewy for example – and it’s a good idea to carry a compact mirror with you for inconspicuous food-in-teeth checks (although tbh your mobile phone will work just as well).
Oh, and despite all the Hollywood horror stories, you’re really unlikely to get tangled in another set of braces when it comes to kissing, so don’t let them get in the way of your love life.
Do they hurt?
I’ll be honest with you, they do hurt a bit when you first get them on, and then after each time you get them adjusted (which is usually every 4-6 weeks) – your teeth are literally moving in your skull, after all! But it soon settles down. A couple of regular painkillers and a liberal smearing of Bonjela (yep, the baby teething gel) works a treat – and stick to soft foods for a day or two.
You might also find that your lips, gums and insides of your cheeks take a bit of a battering, which isn’t really a surprise since your mouth is suddenly full of metal! Again, though, these soft areas will soon toughen up. Invest in a really good lip balm and keep the Bonjela to hand. Plus, your dentist will give you a special type of wax which can be rolled into little balls and smoothed over any jagged bits.
Are they actually worth it?
That’s really up to you to decide, but the fact is there’s no better time in your life to get braces than in your teens. You’re still growing so your teeth are more malleable, everyone else is having it done, and thanks to the NHS, it’s free!
Yep, there will be times during the treatment that you’ll want to rip them clean out of your mouth – but when they finally come off and you run your tongue over your smooth straight teeth for the first time in ages, you’ll be so so glad you stuck with it.
Just remember to wear the retainer. Seriously.