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Preparing your child for braces

Growing up with braces

Braces are a common feature in the mouths of millions of American youths. Many kids look forward to the opportunity to wear braces, which they see as a rite of passage. They might even have an inkling of the long-term benefits braces will give them. But for kids who are less sure about their orthodontic treatment, parents may need to intervene.

boy brushing his teeth

Be supportive

Practical advice and emotional support can work wonders with children. Encourage your child to focus on the result of his orthodontic treatment: A stunning smile! Look at photos of celebrities who have had braces. If you had braces, show your kids pictures of how you looked pre-treatment. Arrange opportunities for your children to talk to other kids who have or have had braces, whether at school or around your neighborhood. Knowing peers have made it through can help your child know she can do it, too.

Discuss the responsibilities that come with braces. Let him know that braces are not just something "done to" him. Rather, tell him that he must be an active partner by staying away from a few foods for the duration of treatment, and he must brush and floss as instructed by the orthodontist. Talk about favorite foods and how recipes might be modified to accommodate braces. Brainstorm ideas, look through cookbooks or read through braces-friendly recipes on the

American Association of Orthodontists' website

.

Make the day braces are applied a day of celebration. Acknowledge it as the milestone of growing up that it is in your child's life. Have a favorite "comfort food" for dinner. Remember that your child may have some discomfort the first few days of orthodontic treatment. Offer TLC along with soft foods. Have orthodontic wax handy, if needed. Take a "before" picture and post on your fridge. Take a new photo after every orthodontic appointment to track the progress. Remind your child that orthodontic treatment won't last forever. If she perseveres, the long-term reward, a healthy and beautiful smile, can last a lifetime.

Manage expectations

Help your child prepare for what's ahead by talking about what to expect. What happens to get ready for braces? What's it like to have braces put on? How long does it take? How often will your child see the orthodontist? Will your child have to miss school? What happens if something breaks? Anticipate what your child may want to know. If you don't know what to expect, enlist the aid of the orthodontist or his staff.

Oral hygiene

Good oral hygiene is critical during orthodontic treatment. Plaque, a sticky, colorless film that is the culprit in cavities and gum disease, can be trapped around teeth and braces. So can food debris. Frequent brushing and daily flossing will help fight plaque and remove food caught between teeth and braces -- and clean teeth and braces contribute to a good outcome. 

The orthodontist and her staff will review your child's oral hygiene at every appointment. If the orthodontist rewards your child for good hygiene, celebrate with him. If hygiene needs more attention, encourage your child to ask the orthodontist or staff for a refresher course on brushing and flossing, or suggestions of other aids that might contribute to improved hygiene.

Remind your child that, the better he follows the orthodontist's instructions, the more likely he will complete orthodontic treatment on time and with the results planned for by the orthodontist.

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