The school year is back in full swing, but if your child recently got braces, this year will be just a little different than the previous ones. Teens need braces for any number of reasons, including crooked, overlapping, or overcrowded teeth, or a “bad bite” (known as a malocclusion). Malocclusions occur when there’s a difference in the sizes of the top and bottom jaws–either an underbite or an overbite. Sometimes tooth and jaw problems can be caused by losing baby teeth too soon, by accidents, or by habits like thumb sucking that persisted into childhood. But most of the time they’re inherited, so there’s nothing that you could do to prevent it.
In general, wearing braces should not significantly alter your child’s daily routine. However, it is important to follow all the instructions the orthodontist gives regarding teeth cleaning and avoiding foods that could damage appliances or put teeth at risk. This will require sending your child to school with supplies needed to care for braces during the day, making sure you emphasize proper dental hygiene both at school and at home, following the dietary guidelines for orthodontic patients, and keeping up with regularly scheduled orthodontic and dental appointments.
If your child feels self conscious about the idea of going to school with braces, make sure she knows that she is not alone. In fact, up to 75% of teens do not have perfect smiles before orthodontic correction. She probably has never stopped to notice how many of her classmates wear braces too, and she might be surprised by how much company she has. Besides, any temporary embarrassment she might feel will be replaced by a lifetime of confidence if she takes care of her braces and it results in a straight line of teeth.
Caring For Braces While In School
Brushing your teeth immediately after every meal is a rule of thumb that is frequently recommended by orthodontists and seldom followed. Most people don’t carry a toothpaste and toothbrush with them at all times, ready to spring into action after they swallow their last bite. However, if you want your child to achieve optimal results from wearing braces, it’s better to temporarily form these stricter habits with regard to brushing.
If your child refuses to brush his teeth at school, then make sure he rinses thoroughly after eating and brushes his teeth as soon as he gets home. Orthodontists generally recommend doubling up on brushing while wearing braces, increasing from the standard minimum of brushing twice a day to three or four times daily.
One of the most helpful things you can do for your child is to make sure he attends school equipped with a care kit for his braces. Essential items include a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. Make sure the toothbrush is in a resealable container or use disposable toothbrushes. Also include emergency care items, such as extra orthodontic elastics and dental wax for sore spots that could result from part of the mouth rubbing against a wire or bracket. Mouthwash is a good idea to include as well, which can be used as an alternative to brushing if necessary. A small mirror is helpful for your child during lunch, so he can easily check and see if any food is stuck in the braces. It also can help your child find anything that might be stuck behind the teeth. Finally, if your child wears removable appliances, make sure the cases go in the kit as well.
If your child is enrolled in a physical education class or plays an after-school sport, it’s important that she wears a mouth guard every time she’s performing an activity that could involve even incidental contact. Just one significant hit to the mouth can damage the actual teeth as well as the appliances. Your teeth are in motion while you are wearing braces, so they are not as stable as they normally are and are more susceptible to root damage if something hits them. This is also true if your child is wearing removable braces. The clear, plastic trays used to move teeth are not a substitute for a mouth guard, which should be worn over them.
You can purchase a mouthguard at any food or drug store. They are easy to form by boiling in hot water until soft, and then having your child bite down to form an impression. However, they tend to be a bit bulky, so if your child plays sports often it might be worth asking your dentist to custom design one for him, although this will cost more than one purchased over the counter.
Encourage your child to start consuming more water. It’s a good idea for him to carry a water bottle throughout the school day. Proper hydration is good for teeth, as drinking water flushes food particles and prevents dry mouth, which facilitates a breeding ground for bacteria. Try to make sure he avoids drinking sugary drinks and rinses his mouth with water if he does indulge in fruit juice or soda.
There are a few common dental issues that could arise during the school day. Mouth irritation tops the list, especially if your teen recently had an adjustment. An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug can be good to use during school for a few days post adjustment. Just make sure to administer the dose before school or give it to your teen to take with her, as most school health offices will not administer over the counter medication. Also, make sure she eats something right before or after taking the dose.
Sometimes brackets and wires can come loose, causing pain or irritation to the lips and cheeks. A small piece of wax, rolled into a ball, flattened and placed over the area causing irritation can provide instant relief.
If a loose wire is irritating the inside of your child’s mouth, the eraser end of a pencil can be used to gently nudge it back into place, flat against the teeth. Placing a piece of wax over the wire will provide some relief and stability. If that doesn’t work, he might need to come into the office early to get it fixed, but in general this trick should be able to get him through till his next appointment.
If a bracket comes loose, be sure to call the orthodontist’s office to determine next steps. In some cases, especially if an appointment is close on the horizon, you can slide the bracket back yourself and provide some stability by placing wax over it.
Braces And School Lunch
While wearing braces, it is important for your child to avoid foods that are excessively hard, crisp or unyielding. Crunchy foods have the unfortunate potential of breaking brackets or causing bands or wires to come loose.This can create discomfort in your child’s mouth, in addition to disrupting his treatment plan and requiring an emergency visit to the orthodontist’s office.
Those wearing braces should take care to avoid any foods with small pieces as well. The food particles can stick or lodge behind the brackets or between wires. This can make it difficult to properly care for your teeth, increasing the likelihood of tooth decay while braces are worn.
Sticky or chewy foods can get stuck around the brackets and wires, tugging on them until the brackets snap out of place. Once sticky food forms a gooey seal around the appliances, it can be quite difficult to clean. Eating these foods is one of the leading causes of damage to braces. Unfortunately for kids, this means a lot of candy is off limits, including bubble gum, caramel, fruit or chocolate chews, taffy, gummy candy, lollipops, and any candy with a hard shell. Soft desserts are fine to pack in a school lunch, from cakes to cookies to pies. Plain chocolate is also a safe dessert option.
Sandwiches are a school lunch staple, and there are many types of sandwiches that your child can still enjoy. The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich works great, as long as you avoid using chunky peanut butter that has pieces of peanut that could become lodged in the braces. Just about any type of cold cuts or cheese slices can go in a sandwich and be perfectly safe for braces. Egg or tuna salad sandwiches are options as well.
Almost every school has a pizza day, and most slices of pizza served in a school cafeteria should be fine for a student wearing braces. You just want to avoid pizza that’s made with an excessively thick or crunchy crust. Or, make your own pizza snack by combining pepperoni and cheese on thin crackers.
Lots of lunchbox-friendly options exist for side items. Anything soft such as pudding, yogurt, custard or applesauce is a nice complement to the main dish. Most fruits are allowed, especially the packaged fruit chunks in juice. For a more natural approach, fresh berries are a good option, as are grapes and sliced fruit such as apples or peaches. Just make sure to slice the apples thin, as those wearing braces should never bite into one whole.
Cooked vegetables are almost always safe, as long as they are significantly softened. Mashed potatoes and peas are some lunch go-tos for students wearing braces, but just about any vegetable can work if it’s soft enough.
Helpful Resources for Preparing Meals for Braces
There’s no shortage of braces-friendly recipe sites online, and there are also cookbooks available for purchase that outline entire meals plans for children and teens wearing braces. If you need a little extra help figuring out what to cook for your braces-wearing kiddo, here are just a few options of where you can look to get started:
- The Braces CookBook: This resource offers great recipes that won’t make you feel like you’re sacrificing quality meals for your orthodontic treatment. It offers plenty of tips for eating at restaurants and packing lunch.
- The Tender Teeth Cookbook: This is filled with braces-friendly recipe ideas.
- Super Healthy Kids: This is a go-to for braces-friendly breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert menus. You don’t have to spend hours with pen and paper making weekly meal plans. This site does it for you.
- Tween Us (Chicago Now) and Lyn Stewart (HubPages): More recipes and advice on eating with braces.
The Importance Of Keeping Regularly Scheduled Appointments
The school year comes with all sorts of commitments. There will be exams to study for, sporting events to attend, and social events at which to gather. Sometimes, in the hectic frenzy of juggling your child’s needs and other responsibilities, an appointment might not fit into the schedule.
Many patients miss appointments from time to time. This is quite common, as appointments are usually scheduled just a few weeks apart over the course of a couple years. It is understandable that issues will arise that will require you to cancel an appointment.
However, it is vitally important that you stick as close to the orthodontist’s recommended appointment schedule as possible. At times, this might even mean you have to skip something else your child wanted to do or realign priorities to make the appointment work.
The pressure that braces exert on your teeth to cause movement will reduce over time, making it necessary that the orthodontist regularly re-establish the force needed to straighten your teeth. The orthodontist needs to adjust brackets, replace rubber bands, and make small bends in the wires to ensure you have the perfect smile at the end of treatment.
Changes in tooth movement require at least three weeks to take effect due to the cell regeneration process. The force on your teeth and movement of them causes bone tissue cells to break down and new cells to regenerate. After the regeneration happens, the teeth and supporting structures begin loosening and moving again.
Without adjustments, your teeth will stop moving and treatment will not progress. Missing your regularly scheduled appointments is a surefire way to prolong your experience in braces.
Depending on your treatment plan, the orthodontist may ask you to return every three weeks, or she may decide on any time range up to about two months. Four to six weeks is the most common interval for orthodontic adjustments.
If an emergency or scheduling conflict arises that absolutely necessitates canceling an appointment, make sure you schedule for the next available time. Never skip an appointment cycle, as this will cause a delay in your child’s treatment.
In addition, wearing braces doesn’t magically prevent you from having any other dental problems. In fact, ignoring routine dental care while undergoing orthodontic treatment could spell trouble for your teeth after the braces come off. You still need routine dental cleanings and checkups while you wear braces. If you have a cavity, or need more serious dental work like a root canal or a crown, the orthodontist might need to temporarily adjust or remove part of the braces and wires.
Wearing And Holding On To Your Retainer
If your child has finished wearing braces and is prescribed a retainer, this also comes with important responsibilities. If the orthodontist has instructed your child to wear the retainer throughout all or most of the day (most common in the first few months after the braces come off), it is essentially that he follows the instructions.
However, as you cannot eat or drink while wearing a retainer, your child will need to remove it during lunch or snacks. Emphasize that when out of your teen’s mouth, the retainer needs to be placed in its plastic case. Never wrap it in a napkin. One of the most often cited reasons for a lost retainer is that the student left it on the lunch tray and accidentally tossed it in the garbage.
You can’t stress to your child enough that when the retainer is not in her mouth, it needs to be sealed in its case. Another leading cause of lost retainers is dropping them from pockets when they aren’t in their cases. Retainers are very lightweight can easily fall out without making a noticeable sound to alert the owner. Also, it’s just good hygiene practice to keep them in the case in order to minimize exposure to germs.
If your child is prone to losing things, it is helpful to request the brightest colored retainer case available. Also designate a place in his backpack where it will be kept. This should be a zippable compartment, where it will not accidentally fall out even if the main part of the bag is left open.
If a retainer is lost or damaged, it is important to replace it immediately. Teeth are hypermobile during the phase immediately after removing braces, and they will shift out of place quickly. If you wait several weeks to replace your retainer, it may no longer fit.
The start of a new school year is filled with excitement and new routines, and it’s the perfect time to build good habits for maintaining orthodontic treatment at home and at school.