In season four of The Simpsons, one episode deals with the issue of braces for Lisa. Because of a poorly negotiated employer’s plan for dental insurance, she and her family are confronted with a hard financial choice. The orthodontist, Dr. Wolfe, shows Lisa two options: “These braces are invisible, painless, and periodically release a delightful burst of Calvin Klein’s Obsession… for Teeth,” he says, holding out a nice, modern, low-profile set. Then, since the Simpson’s dental plan doesn’t cover orthodontics, Dr. Wolfe blows the dust off an older, rusty contraption, saying, “These predate stainless steel, so you can’t get them wet.”
Let’s face it. Many of us still think of braces as being a nightmare of medieval torture devices inflicted on poor Lisa. But, thank goodness, braces are more comfortable, attractive and effective than ever before.
Who needs braces?
Dental surgeons began using rudimentary braces as early as the 17th century. Technological improvements continued through the ages. Today, some four million Americans have braces at any point, about one-fourth of them are adults. Many people have braces for cosmetic reasons, to correct crooked teeth or other conditions they consider to be unsightly. But braces are often prescribed for health reasons. Improper alignment of teeth or jaws can cause problems with chewing or speaking, and malocclusions may contribute to head or jaw pain. Poorly aligned teeth can also contribute to oral disease, such as cavities or gum disease. Decisions about braces—whether to get them, what kind, and how much to spend—are best made jointly among dentists, orthodontists, patients, and, for children, their parents.
Options for braces
The traditional braces—still widely in use—are small metal bands encircling the teeth with brackets attached. The brackets are ligated, or wired, to an arch wire that governs the positioning. Over time, teeth move as the arch wire exerts pressure on the brackets. Sometimes springs or rubber bands are used to put more force in a specific direction.
Besides the metal bands, there are several newer types of braces. Clear, ceramic braces are less visible. Brackets that can be attached to the back of the teeth are also less visible. Innovations in the brackets, wires, ligatures, bonding materials and other components of braces are constantly improving the effectiveness, appearance and costs.
Another method of straightening teeth uses customized plastic aligners that fit like tooth guards over teeth. Patients wear the removable orthodontic aligners for about two weeks as they gently move the teeth into a new position. Then, they are replaced with a new aligner that has a slightly different alignment. The average total treatment time is from a few months to two years.
Besides the braces, other procedures or appliances are sometimes used for more complex or severe requirements. These can include spacers that stretch the jaws, head gears that provide additional pressure, and sometimes tooth removal or other surgery.
Costs for braces
The brackets and wires for braces can be manufactured from a wide range of materials and processes. Stainless steel, titanium, and other alloys are used for metal braces; various ceramics or plastics can be used as well. Some “designer” braces actually use sapphire and gold.
The cost for braces takes into account the hardware, as well as the orthodontist’s professional services. A ballpark figure would be between $4,000 and $8,000. Dental insurance plans may or may not cover the cost for braces. If the braces are intended to remediate problems with chewing, speaking or pain—as opposed to simply cosmetic concerns—they are more likely to merit coverage.
Don’t forget complete oral hygiene!
It’s more important than ever to maintain proper oral hygiene with braces. Teeth are still vulnerable to stains, plaque, cavities and gum disease. Brushing and flossing may be a little trickier, and some bonding materials are prone to staining from foods, beverages, and tobacco. Dentists may recommend special techniques or cleaning products.
People with braces have even more reason to add in AO ProVantage dental gel and AO ProRinse to their daily oral care routine. Not only are the antioxidants and other ingredients cooling and refreshing, they may help soothe any discomfort from the irritation of the appliances.
Lisa Simpson’s braces may have been a nightmare, but most people can have a pleasant experience with braces on their way to the smile of their dreams.