I grew up in a fairly lower-middle-class family, in a school district where I was surrounded by plenty of upper-middle-class kids. When I turned thirteen years old or so, it seemed like all the other kids at school started getting braces. I was envious and wanted braces too, because, first of all, this seemed like a rite of passage all the other kids were going through and I felt left out, and second, I knew these kids were going to have perfect smiles and I was not. I asked my parents if I could get braces, but they said braces cost thousands of dollars and we couldn’t afford it.
When I’ve told people this later in life, they’ve thought I was weird for wanting braces, because supposedly when kids are 13 they hate the idea of getting braces. Presumably they’re supposed to hate it because braces are uncomfortable, and make you look like dork and result in teasing. However, 1-2 years of discomfort seem like a small price to pay for perfect teeth (which you’d think an adolescent would be very interested in having,) and I never heard anyone getting teased about having braces, which makes sense, because all the kids had them.
For a while I thought it was too late for me, because I assumed you could only get orthodontic work done as a kid. During my adult life, however, it seemed to become more common for adults to get orthodontic work done too, so once I had enough of my own money, I got Invisalign. It did a decent job, though I still don’t have perfect teeth, because my maxillary canines have a fang-like appearance which, I only had pointed out to me recently by a dentist, is the result of the way they’ve worn against my lower teeth over the years. So I was wondering what my teeth would look like if I’d gotten braces at 13, which led me to reconsider the question of why I didn’t.
Of course, the proximal reason is that my family didn’t have the money. But even if we had, I don’t ever recall our family dentist when I was a kid saying I needed braces. I just wanted them myself, for cosmetic reasons. But “my kid needs braces” seems to have entered the popular lexicon as a cliche about family budgetary woes.
So why do almost all kids of at least a certain minimum level of means these days get braces? Presumably the kids themselves aren’t asking for them, because supposedly they don’t like them. Is it because dentists are telling all these parents the kid needs braces? Or is it because parents themselves are pursuing them, because they want to give their kids the best shot at success by ensuring they have a winning smile?