In the early 2000s, an unusual fashion craze hit Thailand after magazines there began featuring pics of teenage girls sporting colorful braces. Suddenly, every girl on the block wanted to strap metal to her teeth, even if she already had a perfect smile. But because most orthodontists refuse to apply braces to flawless teeth, the girls took their concerns to the black market, where hucksters and swindlers happily slapped on fake braces -sometimes using superglue. (Not the best idea, as the glue's side effects can include blood poisoning and nerve damage.) By early 2006, the craze had become so popular, and so dangerous, that authorities announced steep fines and jail time for anyone caught producing or selling fake braces. Unfortunately, neither the legal penalties nor the physical risks have done anything to diminish the fad. It looks like anxious parents will just have to wait for braces to stop being cool again.
NOTHING TO FEAR... EXCEPT TRUMPETS
The American Association of Orthodontists wants to put a few schoolyard rumors to bed. First off, wearing braces in a thunderstorm doesn't increase your chances of being struck by lightning. Also, braces don't set off metal detectors at airports or disrupt radio signals. But that doesn't mean braces are completely harmless. In fact, the corrective metal reserves a special terror for trumpet players, notoriously chafing kids' lips when they play. Thankfully, University of South Carolina music professor Dr. Keith Amstutz has a solution: the BRACEGUARD. The invention uses a piece of custom-molded plastic to separate players' lips from the metal, allowing teens to toot their own horns pain-free.
CELEBRITIES STRAIGHTEN UP
In early 2002, Tom Cruise took his children to the orthodontist and found out that his own bite was askew. So, he did what any other world-famous movie star would do: He got braces. Instead of a mouthful of metal, Cruise opted for ceramic braces, which use bone-color brackets linked by one arch wire resting in front of the teeth. Cruise wore his braces for the next year, flashing them at movie premieres and award shows, and in doing so, he helped make it acceptable for adults to wear them. By 2004, one in five Americans with braces was an adult- a 37 percent increase from a decade earlier. During the past few years, stars from Danny Glover to Alyssa Milano have followed in Cruise's toothsteps, changing what it means to smile like a movie star.
THE WIRELESS AGE
Recent advances in braces have made them less noticeable and more efficient. The latest development is "smart brackets," which are embedded with microelectronic chip to measure the movement of each tooth and reduce the amount of time teenagers spend under the wire. But the future of orthodontics involves getting rid of braces altogether. Scientists are busy developing a new kind of tooth-straightening device called an eruption guidance appliance, or EGA. Designed for childen between the ages of 8 and 11, and EGA is a retainer-like tray that works at night to guide teeth as they grow in, making braces unnecessary later on.
ORTHODONTICS BY THE NUMBERS
5 Million: Number of Americans with braces.
5,410: Number of orthodontists in the United States.
650: Number of orthodontists in Caifornia (the most of any U.S. state).
30: Number of orthodontists in West Virginia (the fewest of any U.S. state).
$206, 190: Mean annual income for an orthodontist in the United States.
81: Number of Ugly Betty episodes that aired before Betty got her braces removed.
1: Number of The Brady Bunch episodes in which Marcia wore braces.
_______________________The article above, written by Adam K. Raymond, is reprinted with permission from the March-April 2011 issue of mental_floss magazine. Get a subscription to mental_floss and never miss an issue!
Be sure to visit mental_floss' website and blog for more fun stuff!