Going back to school takes some getting used to. Basically, it’s relearning a new set of old routines. Earlier bedtimes and wake-up times. Mapping out bus schedules. Meeting teachers and new subjects. Sports, clubs and other activities are back in full swing. And then there’s every child’s favorite—homework.
Going back to school in braces adds another layer to the mix. Orthodontists will see a lot of new patients in the summer and map out quite a few new treatment paths for kids right before they go back to school.
As a parent, you will have to revisit the habit of preparing the tried-and-tested school lunches for your child. Having a pre-teen or teenager in orthodontic treatment requires that you are a bit more careful about what you place in the brown paper bag. But it doesn’t have to require extra time if you know what foods to have handy in the pantry or the fridge.
First, it’s helpful to know what your child should not be eating at school—or anywhere—while wearing braces.
While wearing braces, it is important for your child to avoid foods that are excessively hard, crisp or unyielding. Eating these foods is like playing Russian roulette with your orthodontic appliances. It might be fine one time, and even the next, but eventually the brackets, wires or bands will break or 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.
Some of these no-go foods include:
- Raw Vegetables
- French/Italian bread
- Hard rolls
- Thin crust pizza
- Fruit that is difficult to bite into, e.g. apples
- Hard candy (hint: avoid anything with a name like “Jawbreakers” while in treatment that affects your jaw!)
- Hard cookies
- Thick crackers
- Corn on the cob
- Meat on the bone
Foods With Small Pieces
The problem with these foods is not necessarily their consistency, but that when chewed they are likely to break or tear apart into small pieces that 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. Check out this slideshow to view some of these foods that often get stuck in braces. Foods to avoid here include:
- Chunky peanut butter
- Bread with small seeds or grains
- Broccoli florets
- Granola bars
These foods can get stuck around the brackets and wires, tugging on them until they snap out of place. And once they form 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. Some to avoid in this category include:
- Chewy candy (Fruit chews, gummy bears, jelly beans, etc.)
- Sticky candy (Sourballs, lemon drops, peppermints, etc.)
- Tough or chewy meats
Now that you’ve gotten a basic sense of what you should eliminate from your child’s diet during orthodontic treatment, let’s move on to the better news: what he or she CAN eat. The good news is, there’s a lot of options.
Here are some highly recommended food choices for people wearing braces:
- Mashed potatoes
- Soft Cheeses
- Soft meat
- Salads without crunchy vegetables or croutons
- Soft fruits or fruit cut into fine slices
- Steamed vegetables
- Moist cakes
- Moist cookies
- Soft breads
- Soft tortillas
- Ice Cream
- Air-popped popcorn (popcorn without the kernel)
Keep it Healthy
Healthy eating is important for everyone, including busy teens, and wearing braces does not mean a steady diet of mashed potatoes and pudding (though they are indeed braces-friendly foods). One option is to take healthy foods that are on the avoid list, and cook or cut them down into safer servings. Steam the vegetables, or cut crunchy fruits like apples into finer slices that your child won’t have to bite down on with much force.
Here’s one example of a menu that would be braces appropriate for a week of school. Others exist all over the internet.
- Peanut Butter Sandwich (with jelly, jam, honey or hazelnut butter)
- Steamed Carrots
- Cheese Stick
- Pizza crackers (Pepperoni and cheese slices, thin crackers and pizza sauce)
- Meat & Cheese Sandwich (ham, turkey or bologna)
- Apple Slices (make sure to slice them thin, and sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon on top for a special treat)
- Potato Salad
- Hard boiled egg
- Pita with hummus
- Green beans
- Tuna or Egg Salad Sandwich
- Pineapple chunks
- Sliced cucumbers, sliced bell peppers and cherry tomatoes with vegetable dip or ranch dressing
- Soft cookie
Helpful Resources for Preparing Meals for Braces
- 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 option 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.
Caring for Braces at School
After your child eats that incredibly well-prepared braces-friendly lunch you packed, there comes a potentially awkward moment where he must decide whether to do the unthinkable—brush his teeth in the school bathroom.
When wearing braces, you need to clean the teeth after each meal. But before your child goes into a total panic over the prospect of brushing over a public sink, remember that other ways exist to clean the teeth. Swishing with cleansing mouthwash can be far less conspicuous for a timid teen. Ask your orthodontist for his or her recommendation on the type of rinsing agent to use and how to use it.
Pack some braces must-haves for your child to carry in his or her backpack or store in their locker. This kit should include:
- disposable toothbrush
- extra orthodontic elastics
- dental wax
- cases for any removable appliances
- small mirror
To help your treatment go smoothly and according to plan, your orthodontist will also help you through what you should eat and what you should avoid. If you have a particular food or school lunch item that you aren’t sure about, don’t hesitate to ask. That 2-minute conversation will take a lot less time and effort than having to come into the office to have your appliances fixed.
As always, at Orthodontic Associates, we look forward to making you smile!