For many parents, braces for their kids are a significant expense. While the exact price can vary significantly, you are usually looking at a price tag between $3,000 and $10,000 if you don’t get any help from insurance. With insurance, the average price may be half of that, but only if braces are deemed a medical necessity.
Today, it is expected that an estimated 50 to 70 percent of U.S. children will wear braces before adulthood. Over the past few decades, the need for braces has grown to a point where it is essentially a right of passage for most teens and preteens.
So what is changing that is making braces and other orthodontic treatments so much more common today? If you look back far enough into human history, our fossil records make one thing very clear: the epidemic of crooked teeth is a modern-day phenomenon.
Our ancient ancestor’s skulls almost always show a pristine smile. Sure, they might have an arrow going through their skull or a sabertooth tiger bite telling the story of a grizzly death, but at least they had movie-star quality perfect teeth. If you look back to the jaws of hunter-gatherers, you will almost always find uniformly roomy, perfect arches of well-aligned teeth; zero gaps, crowding, or impacted wisdom teeth.
We all do less heavy chewing than ever before in human history, children included
So what happened to our perfect smiles over the years? Anthropologists have reported for years now that the size of the human mouth has long been shrinking. As our mouths have gotten smaller, so have our jaws, leaving less space for our teeth to develop with proper alignment.
So why is our mouth shrinking? Some experts say it all comes down to chewing and breathing. Our ancestors were accustomed to chewing through tough “nose-to-tail” meats and fibrous vegetables. Today, many of us will slurp a smoothie for breakfast through a straw—big difference.
Young children are also doing much less chewing today than in the past. Typical baby and toddler foods now come in puree form in a squeezable pack. From a young age, we are chewing a lot less than we used to.
On top of chewing less, we also breathe a lot more through our mouths. Studies have shown that mouth breathing in children can influence the size and shape of the jaw and face, which will impact the development of their teeth.
The key takeaway? Kids are expensive, and given the way prices are trending, they will probably only get more costly in the future. However, it seems that by introducing more solid foods earlier in a child’s development and encouraging kids not to mouth breathe, the need for braces might be something you can save a couple of bucks on.
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