The rise and rise of the metal brace

ID-10095806There has been a surge over recent years in the popularity of adult orthodontic treatment using modern techniques such as Invisalign and ceramic white braces. These have allowed treatment to be accessible for people of all ages.

But what about the metal “train track” brace? What has happened to this “workhorse” of orthodontic treatment? Has it had it’s day?

Not at all! I think that the metal brace is more popular now than ever.

180 degree turnaround

When I was a teenager there was a sure fire way of attracting exactly the wrong type of attention… wear a brace on your teeth. Combine that with being a “swot” (guilty!) and you could safely guarantee endless days of misery from the playground bully.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I see scores of children and teenagers every week who are not only happy to wear metal braces, they are EAGER to wear metal braces!

In fact, if brace treatment cannot be provided or needs to be delayed for a year or two, there are cries of disappointment and howls of injustice. “But she was looking forward to wearing her braces!” mums will reproachfully tell me as they file out the surgery with child in full pout.

How did this happen? How did braces become… I hate this word but it seems the right one to use… “cool”?

A clue might be gleaned by taking a look at another social stigma that has had a makeover… the pair of spectacles.

Four eyes better than two?

Retail optics, as it is called, is big business. Celebs from A to D are queuing up to wear their specs, sometimes even without any lenses. Victoria Beckham is about to launch her own brand of designer eye wear while Mr Victoria Beckham sports his pair off the pitch regularly.

Having asked Google “Is it OK to wear glasses?” the chat forums seem to shout back a resounding “YES!”. The words that repeatedly catch my eye include “cool”, “geek”, “intelligence” and “funky”.

I notice that children are wearing fantastic specs these days. The only options in my school seemed to be tortoise shell “NHS glasses”. High street opticians display extensive ranges of Tommy Hilfigger, Karen Millen and French Connection frames, many at quite affordable prices.

Geek Power

“Geek” seems no longer to be a term of abuse. Wikipedia defines geek as a term to describe “eccentric or non-mainstream people” and that it is used “self-referentially without malice or as source of pride”.

As Matt Smith quipped in a Dr Who documentary over the Xmas break “We live now in a world of geek empowerment”. Look at the popularity of TV shows like “Big Bang Theory” , “The IT Crowd”, Dara O’Briain’s “Science Club”.

I think this plays into the acceptance of orthodontic braces among teenagers these days. Having braces says something about you, it’s a conscious decision YOU have made made to improve YOUR oral health and appearance, it involves lifestyle adjustment, sacrifice (no more chewing gum or fizzy drinks!), it’s the “intelligent” thing to do.

And it allows you to be both part of a group (“all of her friends have braces”) but also individual. Metal braces with colours allow you to express yourself… you can choose your own combinations for that special day (red and white for the Boro match?) or to suit your outfit, your mood or all of the above.

It takes one to know one

Orthodontists are geeks. It takes a particular type to endure not only a five year dental degree, but also a further six years of intensive postgraduate training to become a fully-fledged specialist with a passion for making teeth straight!

But being an orthodontic specialist has all the elements needed for the nerdy type. It’s complicated to learn, it’s science based, it relies on technological innovation, it requires close attention to detail… what is there not to love?

When I entered dental school in 1989 I remember being told of a survey that had been taken of the reasons why people decided to become dentists. The most popular reason given was the experience of having had orthodontic treatment as a child.

So for those of you wearing your metal braces right now… I wonder if any of you reading this might be thinking the same…?

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