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Braces: Vanity or Necessity?

Posted by Catherine Morgan on August 21, 2007

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Braces: Vanity or Necessity? — by Catherine Morgan (cross-posted at BlogHer)

I have a feeling I am going to take a lot of heat for this post. I’m going to tell you about braces and orthodontics, but I’m also going to talk about my personal opinion, and that always seems to get me into some hot water.

I have been told on more than one occasion that both of my children need braces. But, I’ve never actually taken either of them to an Orthodontist. The reason I never took them was; I have heard from many friends that when you take your child to the Orthodontist it is “free”, but once you are there you are basically put on-the-spot to make a decision to get the braces, or be charged for the visit. So, if you decide to agree to a payment plan at that moment, you avoid having to pay the $150.00 (or so) consultation fee. Bargain. Personally, I don’t know one person that has taken their child to an Orthodontist and didn’t leave convinced they needed to get the braces. Since I didn’t have the money, even for payment plans, I figured avoidance of this particular office would be my best bet. I also think that even though my children’s teeth may not be considered “perfect”, they look just fine.

I’m not saying that I recommend this “avoidance” method for all parents, I know that there are many instances when braces are an “obvious” necessity. Basically, I have a two part problem with this whole “to get or not to get braces” thing. One, is the “money” factor, the other is the “guilt” factor.

I don’t have a problem with braces in general, but it seems to me that (practically overnight), necessity went from…baby teeth fall out, and permanent teeth are obviously “crooked”, to pull-out baby teeth and make sure the permanent teeth will be “perfect”.

From Star-Telegram

The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland research firm, projects that the market for orthodontic devices will grow more than 6 percent a year to reach $3.7 billion by 2010.

Braces aren’t cheap, and dental insurance usually covers only a small part of the bill.

So patients predictably have questions about the expense.

Packard estimates that orthodontic treatment typically costs $4,800 to $5,200 locally.

As a single mother, I found this quote by “Packard”, a little offensive. Maybe I’m taking this too personally, but where does an orthodontist get off declaring what the “all-American family” should look like?

“The people that come to us are the ones that have three or four kids. Both parents work. Two of them are teenagers. They both need braces, and they don’t want to spend 12 grand for those kids. They’ll spend [$9,000] with us,” Packard said. “Our market is the general run-of-the-mill, all-American mom and dad who are trying to make a living and take care of the family.”

Am I not “taking care of my family” because I choose to wait and see if they will really need braces, or if I just can’t afford to get them braces? This is where the “guilt” thing comes into play.

For me, as a single mother, I carry around enough guilt. So, I wasn’t going to let my dentist (brother in-law) make me feel guilty over not taking my kids to the orthodontist. Not he or anyone else could tell me that not correcting the small gap between my son’s teeth, would definitely become a problem as his later teeth came in. I was also told that there wasn’t enough room in his mouth for all his teeth…So wouldn’t that make the gap close up? I’m told maybe, or maybe it will make all his teeth cooked. That was about ten years ago. Today my son’s teeth are perfect, except for a (very) small gap between his two front teeth. He looks fine (perfect to me), and I can’t see how him having braces would have made much of a difference.

When children’s front incisors come in, between the ages of six and eight, a gap can develop between the two central ones. This is called a diastema. Dr. Richard Marcus, a Toronto orthodontist and president of the Canadian Association of Orthodontists, says the gap may go away on its own when children reach 11 or 12. The eruption of the adult eye teeth (the cuspids) may push the front teeth together and close the gap. However, according to Marcus, if the gap remains after the eye teeth come in, it will generally not self-correct, and patients who dislike their appearance should consider treatment. — read full article

Like I said, this is just my opinion, and based only on my limited experience. Since I know that many parents will need more information than just my personal opinion, let me give you some of the actual facts. I would say the best place to start would be with the American Association of Orthodontists, and here are some statistics that might be interesting to you.

Here is an ABC report on the controversy over the age that children should be getting braces…

Studies say there is no benefit to getting braces at a young age, but there are some exceptions.

A new study by the Cochrane Library found children who had their teeth fixed in stages starting at seven to 12, did not fare any better than those who had their teeth fixed later from 12 to 16.

And, I found this information from Reader’s Digest Canada “Does Your Child Really Need Braces?

An estimated 300,000 Canadian children are currently seeing an orthodontist, and the numbers have risen in recent years. The American Association of Orthodontists reports that the number of North American kids and adults getting orthodontic treatment nearly doubled to 4.4 million in 1996, from about 2.5 million in 1984.

Are our teeth getting worse? Probably not. But we are an increasingly looks-conscious society. And the availability of dental insurance has made orthodontics more affordable for some. As a result, orthodontists are making more money.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics found that the average net income of American orthodontists who own their practice rose to $300,000 in 1998, from $102,000 in 1980. That shows a 50-percent increase when inflation is taken into account.

But, why should you get your child braces?

Orthodontic treatment can address a variety of dental problems — from crowded teeth to more significant defects that can make it hard to bite, chew or speak correctly.

Orthodontists say straight teeth are less prone to decay and gum disease.

And of course, there are the benefits that come with good looks.

A familiar sentiment for many parents, who’re willing to spend thousands for braces to prevent their child from ridicule or being ashamed of their appearance. But, how much do braces actually boost the self-esteem of a child?

One recent 20-year study found that children who had braces didn’t grow up to have better “psychological well-being” than those whose teeth remained crooked.

I would love to hear how other mothers feel about the topic of braces, and the necessity of them for our children. Is it really so important that every child have perfect teeth? Or is it just important for families that can afford it to have children with perfect teeth?

And off topic but (I think) a related issue…

What if your doctor told you that your child was going to be an inch smaller than the average adult? But, if you act right now they could give your child hormones to make sure he/she will be the size society finds acceptable?

What if your pediatrician told you that your daughter was going to be flat chested? But, you could get special implants for her that could gradually increase in size during adolescents so your daughter will feel she “fits in”, and eventually have them them the perfect size.

Do we end up with a society with one “acceptable” look?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan
also at CatherineBlogs.com and Informed Voters


18 Responses to “Braces: Vanity or Necessity?”

  1. marcys said

    I just want to give you some motherly support for not rushing off to an orthodontist to make sure your kids have “perfect” American teeth. Over the past 20 years or so parents have been pressured to get orthodontia for their kids;orthodontists have waged a campaign to make braces seem necessary for everyone. My kids are grown now, in their 40s. People used to bug me to take them to the orthodontist (like they bugged me about everything else). Since I myself had a horrendous experience (but it was necessary work) with orthodontia, I ignored the pressure. My daughter, who lives in LA among people with “perfect” teeth, got hers straightened a few years ago, at her own expense. My son has crooked bottom teeth, and every once in awhile I look at them and feel pangs of motherguilt. But hey, if the teeth were his worst problem, I’d be a happy and guilt-free mother. Stick to your convictions.

  2. Thanks Marcy.

  3. Carolyn said

    My 12 yr old daughter had a palate expander for about a year, which really helped her teeth positioning.We then waited about a year longer, using a retainer, and then visited the ortho who said she needed braces for 1 year to correct her “bite”. We took her to the dentist yesterday for a pre-braces check up and he (reluctantly) admitted to my husband that if my daughter were his child, he would not put braces on her teeth since they were almost perfect. Now I am struggling with the decision of whether to go ahead with the $4100.00 brace treatment or not. Thank you for your opinion. It’s helping me make mine.

  4. Thanks Carolyn. I would give your dentist a lot of credit for speaking up to you, I imagine that doesn’t happen very often.

    Good luck with what ever you decide.

  5. JOhn said

    My parents could not afford braces when I was growing up. My father literally killed himself just trying to provide us with a lifestyle in the 1960’s that was better than what he had growing up. I did get good dental treatment because mom was a dental assistant. So here I am at 52 a male with braces. So much for the stigmatism of braces in later life. I am proud of mine and flash them all the time. They cost me over $4000.00 and I am doing it because I want my teeth to look better than they were. I do not fault my parents for their decision, my teeth or a better lifestyle for the family, the family was more important, and rightfully so. I remember when we ate pancakes for three weeks because of a short paycheck. Mom do what you feel is right, if your kids don’t understand they will someday, and if they want to pay to have it done, then they can or they won’t. The choice will still be there and they can do it at any time in their life, just look at me.

  6. Hi John. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful story, I think it’s great that you have braces at 52.

  7. DJ said

    I didn’t want braces when I was younger and I was quite offended that my mother said I needed them. I finally got them when I was 12 and I got them off when I was 14. I’m not one to buy into all this “you have to look a certain way” but I am soooooo glad that my parents made me get those braces because honestly, despite what I thought, my teeth were terrible. (Looking back at pictures confirms this) Teeth are one of those funny things in life. Everyone is always looking at them. If I wouldn’t have gotten my straighted out then I’d probably be less confident.

  8. Thanks for your insight DJ. I agree that when teeth are bad, it can make a person feel less confident, and if braces help then that is great. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Cindy said

    As a 44-year-old woman whose teeth are rotting away from not getting braces when I needed them as a child, I’ll tell you what I’m currently going through because not having a proper bite with straight teeth has now caught up to me. I’ve been on penicillin now for 4 months. I have jaw bone infections and have been hospitalized with sepsis due to this. I’ve lost 4 molars, top and bottom. My bottom canine teeth are showing bone and nerve. As I sit here, I just had to take a Percocet to kill the pain or else I’m in tears with a Coke can on my jaw holding it with a potholder. I have a total of 10 root canals with another one being done next week and I had 2 last week.

    Because my parents were too damn cheap to spend the $1000 in 1979 for my braces, I am now spending over $15,000 to fix my it. No matter what, get your child’s teeth fixed now so that he/she doesn’t end up like me. This isn’t fun. I hate it. My entire life and that of my family revolves around my dental appointments and where or not I’m high from the pain killers. I have 5 different dental professionals working on me at the same time. If you have to work a 2nd job, then work a 2nd job, but take care of your child’s teeth at any expense.

  10. Hi Cindy. I’m sorry for all you are going through, it sounds like your dental problems are quite severe and extensive. When teeth are really bad (like it sounds yours are), there seems to be no doubt that getting them fixed is what should be done. I just question kids who have “nearly” perfect teeth, and are told that they need braces because they are not perfect “enough”. That just doesn’t seem right to me.

    Anyway, best of luck to you.

  11. briteny lopez said

    If you have the money or whenever you do you really should get them done. my parents and I didn’t think my teeth were ‘too bad’ when i was 12 so they never got them for me almost 12 years later they are all I can think about. i spent a good deal of my teenage years figuring out in the mirror the best way to smile so my teeth ‘wouldn’t show too much’. Save them the strife get them done.

  12. Niña said

    The definition of perfection is different from person to person. You mentioned that your child has a gap in his front teeth, which is referred to as a Diastema. As a mother, you think that he is okay and it is not a big deal, because you see him through mothers eyes… I am a 23 year old female with a diastema, even though my mother who is also single couldn’t afford treatment for me, I cannot begin to tell you that this ‘small problem’ took a huge toll in my life, both in the professional level (work/career), the social level and in my personal relationships, due to my lower self esteem and very little confidence.

    My orthodontic doctor told me that had my parents taken me to the ortho when I was just reaching my teens and took me to get a frenectomy surgery, the gap would have been gone on its own and I would have never needed braces. The small surgery costs $400. Now, I have to spend out of my own pocket about $4,500 to get braces because of this and I have an appointment to get my braces in 2 weeks.

    My point is, it may seem uneccesary to you and a small issue, but unfortunatly, the first impression you get is your smile and it sucks when you feel like you can’t smile because of the gap you have in your front teeth which is the first thing people see when you smile. Do I blame my parents for it? Partly, because I feel it was their responsibility to fulfill my needs as a growing child and I don’t think they did all the necessarly steps to make things right. Granted, its a tough world, but that comes with having a child. There are plenty of payment plans that are available now that makes ortho more available and affordable, but its all a matter of taking your time to research what are the alternatives. If you don’t take your kid to an ortho, you will never know what really could have been preventable or not. Before you make an appointment, be clear to mention that you are just there for a consultation and you do not have any money with you, and if you feel that you are being pressured just leave and walk away.. most orthodontics and dentists won’t mind, they have patients coming in and out all the time.

    Good luck 🙂

  13. jade said

    hii, when i was 15 i wanted braces because i felt my teeth was terrible and i was very unhappy and self concious.the othodontist told me i didnt need braces, i remeber i cried for a long time.but i was told i could save money and get braces when i am older.it is not because of vanity because everyone has certain parts yo hate about yourself.many people tell me my teeth are perfect.but how can they be when the orthodontist himself said they were crowded.my mum sed i was lucky because i would go through a lot of pain but in da end i feel it would have been worth it.now i have to work hard and save money.i will forever be looking in the mirror trying to find a good way to rearrange my smile.

  14. rebecca said

    Hi Catherine,

    I remember being in my early teens and being moritified at my dentist’s insistence that I get braces. She was treating me for an unrelated problem (cavities?) and then her and her assistant suddenly paused, looked at each other and said to me, “I’m afraid I have some bad news. You’re going to have to get braces.” They said it as though it was a pathway that had already been settled; something that was clearly imminent; something I had no choice in as I “needed” braces. “We’re not saying you’re ugly or anything like that,” (yes this is actually what they said) “you just have a bite problem that needs to be fixed”. I could tell when they said it that their minds were already made up and there was to be no discussion. This was the 1990s and it seemed they expected every adolescent who they suggeted it to and whose parents could afford it would get braces. The consultation left me feeling just a little ashamed and insecure. I had always been aware that my teeth were not perfect (but quite alright) but I was not that bothered because I had always felt that my teeth, and certainly my smile, were ok. Of course, my mother consulted with me and never have I got braces.

    I have always had an overbite but for some reason I feel it is hardly ever noticeable. The only time it can be noticed is from the side view when I smile. It can be seen that my top row of teeth somewhat covers my bottom row. However my chin seems to be right where it should be. My top row of teeth is reasonably straight whereas the bottom crowded. When I see myself in photos it is not really noticeable especially from front on photos where it all (deceivingly) looks pretty good. It is interesting to note how I now feel about my teeth at age 20. For now I am happy that I never got braces and am comforted by the fact that I can always get braces later if I change my mind.

    I hope I do not offend anyone with this but I really do feel that even the best braces look terrible. Braces would be devastatingly detrimental to my appearance for the year or more that they are in place. It would be like having a huge ugly scar or acne. I can see myself dressing up for a night out, doing my hair, nails, makeup but it all being a little useless adjacent to a DISGUSTING, UGLY and NOTICEABLE mouth of metal. All this to solve a minor aesthetic problem? Again, I don’t want to offend anyone but I am very intersted in this aspect. This seems to be overlooked on a lot of the orthodontic support websites I have been on. I am curious, do people disregard this because it is a pointless concern for those who have already decided to get braces? Or do people genuinely disagree with me about how good/bad it looks? Please respond as I am very interested in peoples’ opinions on this.

    It’d be really nice for me to have a perfect smile but is it worth it? In my situation would it ever be worth even one year of carrying the burden of braces to fix a problem that really isn’t that bad? Why not get a boob job or a nose job instead? I’m less satisfied with my boobs and nose than I am with my teeth. Also, I think a nose job would certainly make a more dramatic difference to my appearance. Why is no-one pushing for people to do this?

    I know this thread is old, but I’d really love a reply to my question!


  15. rebecca said

    sorry I’m not sure if this was clear in my last post or not. I have no intention of getting a boob or nose job. I’m just saying that it seems inconsistent that braces are viewed as a necessity for those with imperfect teeth whereas the other procedures are not.

  16. Spring Williams said

    Hi Rebecca,
    I wanted to respond to your post. I understand how you feel about your smile. My ex-husband has the same slight overbite you described, and he is fine with it. On a personal note, his smile is one of the unique things about him that I fell in love with.
    However, when I was a teen, I had to have all my incisors removed for space and I wore braces for two years because of the overcrowding that had caused my too front teeth to turn sideways worsening the gap I had had for years. I can’t imagine not having had my teeth straightened, which is why I too can feel Catherine’s dilemma.
    Both my sons have inherited their father’s teeth. Lucky for them, they didn’t get mine. The problem I have is that I am now a single mom and can’t afford braces for them, and their father, of course, doesn’t think they need them straightened since his were not.
    The thing is, both my sons want their teeth fixed. My oldest pushed on his teeth for years to get rid of the overbite, and now his front teeth touch, but none of his back molars touch at all when he bites. My younger son has a little more of an overbite than his father. He constantly bites his lip accidentally because of the alignment of his jaw, and he gets picked on about it. He refuses to really smile in photos and in public, and gets really angry at himself and everyone around him if he slips up and gives an open smile. He is obviously very unhappy with his teeth, and even if he manages to push them back the way his brother did, he will also end up with no bite in the back. So, I am completely guilt ridden, and wish I could get braces for them. When they are old enough to work, I hope they and I, together, can afford to get this fixed for them. As far as Catherine’s situation goes, I think that as long as your child is not suffering; give yourself a break on the guilt.

  17. Grace said

    Has it not occurred to anyone that it is possible to put braces on the inside, where nothing shows?
    This would seem to negate any anxiety about ugly betty appearance.
    And why do orthodontists and dentists never mention this option to patients? Perhaps they are primarily interested only in selling the patients whatever they have available in their own office. This would be like an MD withholding a referral to another doctor to “capture” you within their own office and sell you something less satisfactory!

  18. Mak said

    This is a really interesting topic. I, myself, will be getting braces on in two days at age 26. My parents raised 6 children and gave us the best they had. I didn’t feel particularly self-concious about my teeth until a few years ago when I realized that they just weren’t going to get any better. Hopefully some of my confidence will be regained with straigher teeth!

    I also wanted to point out that not everyone feels the same way about their teeth – it all comes down to personal perspective. I have an absolutely beautiful sister-in-law who has a space between her front teeth I would say it’s barely noticeable – I’m so used to it! She carries herself confidently, smiles often and laughs even more. I think that sometimes, it comes down to personality.

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