Because I can’t do anything mainstream.
At my kiddos’ most recent dental appointment the dentist finally dropped the hammer and declared it was time for braces for Kyle, my almost-10-year-old. Specifically, he needed a butterfly or a rapid upper palatal expander. I broke into a cold sweat.
1. I had one when I was 11-12–I still think of it as The Rack–and it was kind of a disaster. While it did a bang up job widening my face and correcting for an undershot jaw, it left my front teeth unsupported and vulnerable. While horsing around with my sister, my face crashed into her head and I lost a tooth. Having a gray, dead tooth front and center is a big Fashion Don’t for teenage girls. Don’t even ask about the snaggle tooth flipper I had to wear for two years.
It looked good and it felt fine, but it was kinda weird, ain’t gonna lie. My sister and I weren’t exceptionally wild girls. We were kids, we were horsing around, and BAM! I was out a tooth. Kyle, on the other hand, is super active; he and his little brother are pretty scrappy; and he has already knocked out two of his loose baby teeth from playing rough or fighting with Mike. Leaving his front teeth that vulnerable was an invitation to dental disaster.
2. Kyle has mild epilepsy and there’s mounting evidence that seizures aren’t entirely benign and they can leave behind subtle neuronal changes, so managing and minimizing seizures and subclinical seizures is of the utmost importance. The upper palate is basically the floor of the brain’s support–the maxilla bone and a bit of the sphenoid bone, which houses the pituitary. In our experience, just about any kind of brain disturbance–fever, a bonk on the head, ingesting gluten–can lower Kyle’s seizure threshold. Even just mentioning rapid palate expansion to Kyle’s neurologist caused an immediate eyebrows-shooting-into-hairline reaction: “No, you don’t want to do that!”
Our first consultation was with a mainstream orthodontist, who was a lovely person with a gentle manner and a thriving practice, but she brushed asides me concerns a little too quickly. (Seriously, you wear a flipper for 2 years as a teen and see if it isn’t a wee bit scarring emotionally.)
Then I remembered that our osteopath had told me to call him for a referral as soon as the word “braces” was mentioned. So I did. A week later we had a consultation with a dentist who uses something called an Alternate Lightwire Functionals device, or ALF device for short.
The difference between a butterfly device and and ALF device comes down to action, intensity, and time. A butterfly requires frequent application of increased force (cranking!) against four teeth. Like so:
The ALF device, in contrast, delivers continuous, even force over a longer period of time, like a spring slowly unwinding. Actually, exactly like a spring, since it’s a custom-fit looped metal wire. It is also helpful in treating sleep apnea. It’s about the structure of the entire head, not just the alignment of the teeth. In fact, the first thing the dentist did was check Kyle’s spine, shoulders, and neck rotation before he had Kyle climb in the chair and open wide.
Once the appropriate molds are taken, it is significantly easier to install than an an expander and virtually painless. The wire just snapped in and the dentist glued it in place. It is adjusted every 6 weeks. We follow up each adjustment with a quick visit to the osteopath.
My son’s device has more loops than this. Kyle also has a lower device with acrylic blocks to realign his bite, which he is getting used to for a week before the dentist glues it in.
His smile before:
And his smile with the devices locked and loaded. Note that his smile is more symmetrical, his front upper and lower teeth are better aligned, and his lower jaw isn’t sliding forward:
My handsome boy!
1. Of course it’s more expensive that traditional orthodontia and it will take longer, but this was the ONLY way to go for us. It’s a slow, gentle, gradual treatment that takes the shape and structure of the entire skull into account.
2. Here’s how you can find more information and the name of a dentist or orthodontist that uses the ALF device in treatment:
List of practitioners