Braces in the '70s and '80s

Memories of orthodontia in the '70s and '80s
September 19, 2017

A few years ago, I embarked on an orthodontic journey as an adult with braces. I started my treatment following a yearly checkup with my dentist, when I was told I had some serious crowding that if untreated could result in losing some teeth. I was surprised, but set up my appointment with an orthodontist, and sure enough, was advised that I needed to get braces. And so, shortly afterward, I went to an orthodontist and in several appointments, received my braces, first my upper teeth, then my lower, and then rubberbands to top it off.

I never had braces as a kid, in fact I was often told that my teeth and smile were quite straight. I was surprised that orthodontia had now entered my life. But my adult braces experience did bring back memories of growing up in the Seventies and Eighties, a time when some of my friends wore braces during their adolescence. I remember occasionally hearing complaints about their braces, and gripes about some unpleasant aspect of their treatment. There was also the occasional signs of embarrassment and discomfort at having a metal mouth, and the little rituals carried on discreetly of putting on new elastics in the middle of class. Now, as an adult, I found myself experiencing much the of the same, so many years later.

Braces are now very common, especially among kids and teens. In the Seventies and Eighties when I was growing up, it was much less common, and particularly unusual for adults. Braces were sometimes portrayed in TV and movies as a dreaded adolescent indignity, a youthful scourge not unlike wearing glasses and getting acne (the latter two I was quite familiar with as a teen).

When I was a young kid watching TV in the '70s, there were occasional appearances of braces. In the '70s, braces were an embarrassing and dreaded teenage curse that kids wanted to avoid. One of the first times I saw a television program were getting braces was dealt with was a rerun of the early '70s family sitcom, The Brady Bunch, where Marsha, to her dismay, had to get them.

I remember being intrigued at the time about what it must be like to have a mouthful of metal and to go around with them on. In this episode, Marsha did everything she could to hide her tin grin, until her boyfriend ended up having to get a metal mouth as well. There was also an episode of The Partridge Family where Lori Partridge got braces, and she was just as distressed by having to wear them.

But one of the most memorable '70s appearances of braces was in the 1977 Disney flick Freaky Friday, with Jodie Foster. At the very beginning of the movie, Jodie flashes a glaring tin grin at herself in the mirror. She wears braces through a large part of the movie, before getting them taken off.

In the Eighties, I entered my teen years. One of the most memorable brace faces of that decade was that of Anthony Michael Hall, who played many metal mouthed nerdy roles in films such as Vacation, 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club. Sean Astin also wore braces when he played Mikey Walsh in The Goonies. Probably the most well-known headgear wearer of the 1980s was a character named Miles from the TV sitcom Mr. Belvedere, who apparently was sentenced to wearing the orthodontic contraption full time.

The scariest braces of all had to be the ones worn by the boy Robbie Freeling in the movie Poltergeist II. In this remarkable horror movie scene, Robbie's possessed braces attacked him. I suppose it may have been a common feeling to many who undergo orthodontic treatment.

During my teens, I encountered some of my friends going through their braces experience. Here are some memories of my friends who had braces. The names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Kyle was one of my best friends. I first met him in freshman year of High School. We were both similar in some ways. We were both misfit types, kind-of quiet and admittedly also kind-of odd. Kyle was a very skinny kid who was also a bit on the short side, and he also had glasses (something I didnt get myself until a year later). Amidst all his other adolescent plagues, along with his shyness and nerdy glasses and skinny physique was a mouth packed with braces, both uppers and lowers.

After a while, Kyle became less shy around me. We became pretty good friends, and remained so until the end of our years at school. Quirky kid, Kyle. He was one of those quiet nerdy kids who longed to be more "rebellious" and "edgy" than he really was. Kyle's parents were always strict with him, though, and that, along with Kyle's typically shy nature, prevented him from being as outgoing as he would like to be. It didn't help that he also had a mouthful of braces and four-eyed geeky glasses.

You could see Kyle was conscious of his appearance. I can't remember when Kyle finally got his braces off, probably in his Sophomore or Junior year, but I'm sure it was a major relief to him. After he got them off, I remember his commenting to me that his parents would always drive him up the wall making sure that he used his retainer.

Then there was Jeff. Jeff was a brash red-haired kid who was a fan of heavy metal. This was in the '80s, so he was into all the typical '80s metal like Motley Crue and Ratt. Although I knew him for a few years before, I really got to know him when he sat across from me for a whole year in a High School art class my freshman year. Anyway... yes, Jeff wore braces too, on his top teeth only. He had his braces since I first met him back in middle school, and in fact he seemed to have them on for a while before that. During that art class, he would sometimes complain about his braces, about how they were "a pain in the butt." He would also complain sometimes about being made to wear headgear at home. At one point, Jeff mentioned that his orthodontist told him that he either needed to wear his headgear to school, or get braces on his lower teeth. Jeff made it clear that he wasn't going to do either. Apparently he got his way, and got his braces off toward the end of that year.

Another friend I had was Chris. I got to know him during my senior year. He was one grade below me (a junior). He was a chubby kid with a big stomach that looked like it benefited from quite a few buffets. Chris also had the trinity, the triple whammy, of adolescent plagues: acne, glasses.... and braces!!! With a flattop haircut, he looked kinda like a teenage Drew Carey with braces.

Lastly, there was Eric. I remember Eric when he first showed up at school, after he was transferred from another school in the middle of the school year. I remember Eric for his braces, mainly because he had this ritual whereby he would seemingly always be attaching new rubberbands onto his braces. And seemingly always in the same class. I know that using rubberbands are part of orthodontia, but Eric seemed to always putting them on in this one class. He would take out this little ziploc bag that had plenty of them, and taking one out, he would open his mouth, and hook the rubber band onto his braces. Many years later, I would learn the same technique.
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