The Surprising History Of Braces That You Totally Never Knew About

As a nine-year-old, when it seems like everybody has something, you want it too. That’s why I desperately wanted braces as a kid. They just seemed kind of cool to have. Some kids even had their bands changed to different colors depending on what holiday was coming up so they could match accordingly. So, from fourth grade through the early years of high school, it seemed like braces were just another adolescent rite of passage. You whine, you deal, you come out on the other side with frighteningly nice teeth, the end. Of course, my jealousy waned by the time I was a teenager and my dentist started to tell me that I could use some braces up in my mouth. So, I never wore braces, even though I probably should have.

Still, I’m fascinated by the place that braces have in teendom and pop culture. And that’s exactly what this post is about. From terrifying head gears to braces becoming a fashion trend (yeah, seriously), here’s the surprising history of braces that you definitely didn’t know about.


Old School AF Braces Were Just As Terrifying As You'd Imagine

Envying straight teeth isn't a particularly new concept. The photo on the left shows braces in Ancient Egyptian skeletal remains, proving that having nice AF teeth were even desired way back when. Of course, just looking at the way that the Egyptians attempted to straighten their teeth is beyond cringeworthy. Want to cringe even more? Archeologists think that, along with metal, catgut was used to pull the teeth together. No thanks!

Let's skip forward way into the future, though. In the 1700s, a French dentist named Pierre Fauchard created the bandeau. No, not the bra; it was a U-shaped piece of metal that was shoved in your mouth with some wire in hopes of expanding your arch. Sounds...torturous.

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Braces Developed, And Were Full Of Some Serious Bling

There were a lot of funky dental devices from the 1700s through the 1800s. But in 1819, a dude by the name of Christophe Delabarre came up with the wire crib, which resemble our idea of braces much better than previous incarnations. Braces slowly started to improve, but didn't change much until the middle of the 20th century.

By the way, if you had braces in, say, 1932, your braces were probably made of real gold, platinum, and silver, along with some steel, perhaps. Blinged out yeah? Well, orthodontists eventually moved away from the 24 karat stuff, though, and were more likely to use zinc, copper, ivory, brass, or even wood. Yes, wood in your teeth.

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Headgear Hell

Headgears were used a lot in the mid-20th century. Think of headgears as braces times two. While regular braces straigten teeth as well as fix "bite issues" like overbites and other jaw issues, headgears were used to solve severe bite problems. These things would literally alter the way a kid's jaw grew. That underbite? Yeah, taken care of with a headgear.

They also made great torture devices to any kid's social life. Of course, it's not like you couldn't do anything with a headgear or not have any friends, but let's be real...kids can be mean. Nobody would want to deal with that growing up. They've largely fallen out of favor over the last 30 to 40 years, however. Very easily removable headgears are now worn by many people at night, as opposed to out and about in public.

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The Popularity Of Braces = Geek In Pop Culture

As braces became more common, so did their presence in pop culture. The result: Not the best depiction. It wasn't just headgears that screamed social suicide. Braces in general were depicted as nerd-wear, incredibly geeky, and totally unattractive. As early as 1970, an episode of The Brady Bunch featured Marcia crying for the entire episode about her braces, and how ugly she felt with them. Fast forward to the '80s, and braces were still the subject of mockery in movies like Sixteen Candles, in which a memorable character struggled to do basic things like drink from a water fountain or have a good time at the school dance.

Basically, if you watched TV or movies, the message you got about braces was simple: Get them, become miserable.

The Brady Bunch/Sixteen Candles

With Braces Becoming So Normalized, They Became A Lot Cooler In The Process

By the '90s, it was hard to walk into a classroom without witnessing a bunch of kids wearing braces. In fact, it was around then that braces slowly stopped becoming a little more than a punchline. In Clueless, Murray, one of the most popular guys in school, had a mouth full of braces, and never once complained about it or received mockery for it. In the late '90s, No Doubt front woman and overall badass Gwen Stefani proudly rocked braces. In 2012, Gwen told Harper's Bazaar that her adult braces were a present for herself: "I always told myself when I got rich, that’s the first thing I’d do."

Gwen made braces cool, y'all.

Clueless/Pinterest

The Creation Of Invisible Braces

Over the past 20 years or so, clear, removable braces have risen in popularity. I mean, who hasn't seen a commercial for Invisalign? Even celebs like Bieber were rocking them once upon a time. These clear braces provide an alternative for folks who don't want to walk around with a metal mouth for well over a year. Also, the ability to remove the braces is a huge plus for loads of people for obvious reasons.

However, there are dentists out there who aren't big on these types of braces because they don't believe that they get the job done as well as traditional braces. These removable braces aren't exactly recommended for people who have a lot of orthopedic shenanigans going on. Removable braces aren't going to fix a severe underbite or incredibly crooked teeth.

Still, it's easy to see why somebody who just wants their teeth straighter without the commitment of braces will opt for a nearly invisible and removable option.

Invisalign/Pinterest

DIY Braces Become Trendy, Despite Dangers

Okay, get this: DIY braces are actually trendy. Yes, people are actually wrapping elastic around their teeth, for dental and vanity purposes. You can even get kits online! This isn't news to people in several Asian countries, like Indonesia and the Philipines, where DIY braces have been trendy for years. But they're not safe, y'all. Blood circulation can get cut off, and teeth can gradually shift in the wrong direction. DIY braces can also lead to tooth decay, gingivitis, and other nasty things. Two teens died in Thailand from fake braces, which led to a nationwide ban.

Still, that hasn't stopped some folks from doing it. Listen, if you want to embrace braces (haha), do it the old fashioned way: Go to the orthodontist, get braces, and show off your pearly whites.

iStock.com/ABC News

Do you have or did you have braces? What was the worst (or best) thing about them? Tell us in the comments! Tell us in the comments!

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!

 

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