It is more common to find a teen who has braces or has had braces than finding one who never has had them.
"Braces aren't as ridicule-worthy as they were 20 years ago," said Sarah Garlow, Free State High School junior. "If you look at your classmates, more than half of them have or have had braces. They are so widely accepted now."
Teens aren't the only ones with braces these days. Adults and preteens have them, too.
The American Association of Orthodontics suggests children visit the orthodontist by the age of 7. Dr. Daniel Ranjbar, a Lawrence orthodontist, said while his office sees patients at 7 they normally don't put braces on until all the adult teeth are in. Treatment usually begins when children are between 9 and 14. However, that doesn't mean patients have to be between 9 and 14 to have braces. Today, one in five orthodontic patients is over 18.
Braces can become expensive according to Ranjbar, costing up to $5,000.
Thomas Harmon, former braces wearer and Lawrence High School junior, said having braces was worth the cost.
"My teeth are 100 times better now after having my braces," he said.
Ranjbar said he has patients come in to his office after having their braces removed with much higher levels of self confidence in their appearance.
Reid Crowe, Lawrence High junior and former braces wearer, said, "While wearing braces almost hurts your confidence, after you get your braces off, it really helps (your) confidence. You'll almost forget about all the embarrassment and pain you had to endure."
Garlow said she was far more pleased now with her appearance.
"I like to smile now and enjoy getting my picture taken," she said.
Ranjbar's advice to former braces wearers who want to maintain a straight and confidence-filled smile is simply, "You better wear your retainers, wear your retainers, one more time, wear your retainers."
He said he never tells patients they can completely quit wearing their retainers. Otherwise, a few years down the road, they will be sitting in another doctor's office doing the same thing all over again. He also said he suggests patients wear their retainers a few nights a week, no matter what, to keep their teeth from changing position.
For Ranjbar's patients, the average duration for wearing braces is 20 months. Central Junior High seventh-grader Mike Westheffer, who has had braces for the past 18 months, says the worst part about braces is "not being able to eat hard candy."
Ranjbar agreed with that statement, adding that while he doesn't want his patients eating hard or chewy candy, he does encourage chewing gum. Patients should chew gum because it "improves circulation and massages the gums."
"Trident sugar-free, none of that Big League Chew stuff," he said.
Today, braces are much less obvious than they used to be, especially with the possibility of Invisaline, a new product that is just plastic, opposed to the metal brackets glued to the teeth. These products are clear and removable plastic pieces. They go over the teeth and are called aligners. However, Ranjbar said that product isn't for everybody. It is just for those patients who have very minor problems, more for straightening the teeth than for bite correction.
Garlow confirmed she was glad she had braces.
"I was afraid to flash my pearly whites," she said. "I definitely feel confident enough to grin whenever I feel like it, because I know my smile is beautiful."
- Sadie Callan is a junior at Free State High School.