What, if anything, do I say to my friends about their daughter's urgent need for braces?
February 28, 2011 1:00 PM   Subscribe

What, if anything, do I say to my friends about their daughter's urgent need for braces?

I have a pair of friends, Emmett and Anne, with two children. Anne's daughter, Jessica, needs braces. She really really needs braces. Anne needed braces, did not get braces, and is now fairly self-conscious about it, not smiling with her mouth open, covering her mouth when she laughs, and has said as much. I am about 95% sure that the son will need braces in a few years, too. The adults have made noises about getting Jessica braces for years but have not so much as made an appointment.

Neither of the adults have been managing their disposable income particularly wisely and have borrowed from me. I do not care about that; I bring it up only to point out that they have a history of purchases placing frivolity over practicality: new laptops every year, various phone gadgets, lots of video games, and now they are planning on buying some guns, which has brought my frustration with the (in my view) somewhat self-absorbed neglect of the children (this is hardly the only thing) to a head. I have nothing against guns, but damned if they do not seem like a spectacularly ill-advised purchase versus braces.

I am unsure if I ought to say anything or, if I do, what to say. Part of me is hesitant to speak up for the usual reasons: They're grown-ups. Not my kids. Hey, dude, you're not a parent, so S.T.F.U.

I am asking here because I am painfully aware of my lack of objectivity when it comes to children. Unable to have my own (not an option, in many ways), I tend to dote on other people's progency, showing up with tchotchkes, books, interesting food, science-y things, and generally am a little stupid about money when it comes to spending it on short people with high voices. I privately fret about the social and intellectual development of friends' children, probably as an extension of the way I look after my friends.

My feelings have only been compounded as another friend's child has recently died. Before, I was only brooding and occasionally upset when this topic crossed my mind. Now, just thinking about it has caused me to tear up and I am entertaining having some tense discussions with the adults in question or, very irrationally, considering just offering to pay for the kid's braces. The latter is quite clearly out of bounds, but is something I was idly turning over even before the recent passing.

I'm at a loss as to what to do. I generally keep my discomfort with various things to myself but this is has begun to weigh heavily on me, perhaps because I had to badger my parents into setting me up with orthodonture as a teen. I can only imagine the social discomfort to be worse as a very young woman and worry about her.

Setting aside from the usual MeFi "get therapy because you worry about this too much," (yes, my distress is faintly ridiculous, I probably need a life and a dog, but the problem is real) do I stop hanging out with my friends for fear I will blurt out what I actually think? Do I say anything? If so, what? If I say nothing, what do I do?

Anonymous because I feel like an idiot for being worked up about it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (61 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is a hard situation. You're a good person for caring, and yes, it's not your child BUT it sounds like the parents could be doing a better job (really, every parent probably could do a better job...but still).

How old is the child? It might be worth it to talk to her about it, if she's old enough, maybe she can bring it up to her parents herself. It would take some kind of manipulative conversations, but if you're careful with your words, and if you make it seem like it's the child's idea, and she brought it up to you, and then her parents, then you could all have a conversation about it. If the stars align and the conversation goes well, then you could offer to take her to the dentist for a consultation or something.

Other than that, I'm not quite sure how you could bring it up.
posted by katypickle at 1:06 PM on February 28, 2011

I think you can mention it once -- maybe say "Hey, Friend X recommended Orthodontist Y; weren't you thinking of getting Jessica braces? They said the payment plan was great." At that's AT MOST. Then you have to drop it. I mean that in a nice way, because you sound like a thoughtful and kind person who is concerned in a helpful way. But if it's not your kid, that's the most you can do. Probably most people will think you can't say even that much, but I wouldn't be offended by that.

And what does the loss of another friend's child have to do with Jessica's braces? (Although I am very sorry for your and their sad loss.)

I don't think you need therapy but maybe the dog.
posted by theredpen at 1:08 PM on February 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

Just a possibility...

...could the dentist have told the daughter that she is not physically ready for braces yet, and to wait?

...could the daughter be unable to wear braces for some medical / emotional reason - I'm thinking of Asperger syndrome and sensory defensiveness.

I'm wondering if there is more going on behind the scenes that you are not aware of?
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 1:08 PM on February 28, 2011

Braces and other orthodontia are fabulously expensive and also torture for the kids who have to endure it (I went through it from ages eight through eighteen). That doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, but it means there are plenty of reasons the parents may have for putting it off that they haven't discussed with you because, as you've already pointed out, it's not really your problem. Do Jessica's teeth function? Does the crowding/whatever cause her pain or increase tooth decay or is this just cosmetic? Because maybe it's the latter, and her parents have other, more pressing priorities right now. The girl's going to be self-conscious whether her teeth are crooked or she's got a metal mouth. Again - yeah. It SHOULD be done. But maybe it can't be done right now and, either way, it's not your place to say anything about it. Let it go.
posted by katillathehun at 1:08 PM on February 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would leave out their money choices (never a good discussion), and just say that you've noticed their daughter seems uncomfortable about her teeth, and how that's reminded you of your own really hard time as a kid. Maybe even add how grateful you were to have the work done when you were younger. Mention that they'd talked about maybe getting her an appointment, have they talked to anybody?

See what they say in response. It's a tough situation for all of the reasons you mention, so if they tell you (somewhat politely) to mind your own business, that's all you can do. But don't loan them more money for things you find frivolous, either.
posted by ldthomps at 1:09 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think I would probably mind my own business.
And I would stop lending them money.

My sister had to stop a friendship in which her friend who is unable to have children, nagged her about everything she "should" be doing with her son. It was very stressful for my sister and her husband (who ere under enough stress with finances, work and school) and they eventually parted ways.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:11 PM on February 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

My parents were those parents. My teeth were awful. They bought other things (including guns!) instead of braces. I got braces after I moved out and paid for them myself. It was only about $3000 and my orthodontist was great about setting up a payment plan. Do I wish I'd gotten braces sooner? Honestly, whatever, on the list of things I dislike about my shitty parents it's pretty far down on the list.
posted by kate blank at 1:12 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would just straight up say, "hey, have you guys given any thought to getting Kelsey in to see an orthodontist?"

And depending on how they respond, you can be there to offer to step in to help find a good orthodontist/pay for braces/explain why you think she needs braces so desperately. But I wouldn't beat around the bush. I get kind of caught up and emotional about kids, too, and any prolonging of what I really wanted to say would make me even more on edge about it.
posted by phunniemee at 1:13 PM on February 28, 2011

It should be pointed out that for cosmetic purposes, it's never too late to get braces. Sure, it's preferable to do it when you're young, but older folks can get braces, too. My Mom got braces in her 40s. I like the idea mentioned above where you casually mention a Orthodontist for Jessica, and you could throw in that Anne could get them, too, if she expressed an interest. But beyond that point, you have to leave it be. And don't even touch their spending habits, that's not your concern.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:13 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you an orthodontist?

* If yes, then feel free to sit down with your friends and say, hey, I think child needs braces, why don't you bring her to my office on such and such and because I love you guys, you're getting the special family price.
* If no, then you don't actually know if this child needs braces or not.

Basically, while the suggestions made above about having one tactful, brief conversation with your friends are fine, after that their choices in dentistry are really none of your business. It's nice that you care about your friends' kids but there are boundaries beyond which friends of the family should not, perhaps, go and if this was my kid, you would be crossing them.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:14 PM on February 28, 2011 [10 favorites]

Also, I was a child that needed braces and my parents could not afford it. And when they were able to, I flat out refused as I had watched my other classmates go through misery with them.

Here I am... I still have all my teeth. They may not be perfect, but they do their job. I still have no interest in spending my money on cosmetic dentistry.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:16 PM on February 28, 2011 [13 favorites]

I might be in the minority. But if I had the money to pay for someone's braces, I'd do it - with parental approval, of course. I wouldn't lend the money to the parents, however, given that they tend to spend it on frivolous stuff. Perhaps you can mention that it appears Jessica needs braces - that the parents have mentioned this off and on throughout the years and that you'd like to take Jessica to a orthodontia consultation. If it is determined that Jessica needs braces, and if the parents are okay with it, then you can set up a payment plan with the orthodontist - or just pay for them up front. Don't give the money to the parents. Perhaps you could even be the one that takes her to her appointments and treat her to an ice cream after.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:21 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Depends on your relationship with these friends, it sounds like you're close enough to bring up a possibly sticky subject as long as you frame it in a way that expresses your concern for their well-being. Don't mention money, and don't be preachy. Just be curious, concerned and ideally speak from your own experience. Ex: "I was about her age when I first got my braces.. They sucked, but I'm so happy I went through with it!" Start with something you can easily back-track from. "Have you thought about it? Yes/No? Well, I won't say anymore, but I think it's a great idea. How's your mom?"
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 1:21 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have no idea where I got "Kelsey" from. I need lunch.
posted by phunniemee at 1:23 PM on February 28, 2011

Why don't you leave them alone? It's a big cost to have braces and she can get braces when she's older, they both can.
posted by parmanparman at 1:25 PM on February 28, 2011

for what it is worth, my boo didn't get braces and has the sexiest genius gap i have ever seen in my life. it took her time, but now she knows it too.

from what you write, your friend has a lot of self-esteem issues related to her smile/teeth - perhaps your role can be to help support her daughter's self-esteem as a positive figure in her life? a different approach to take.
posted by anya32 at 1:27 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a snaggle tooth. My teeth are pretty jacked-looking. I am 30 years old and have been like this my whole life—my teeth are a part of who I am. I don't hide them. I smile really big. No big deal.

But what is a big deal and sticks in my craw? People that badger me about getting braces. Incidentally, these people are mostly from the US, where homogeny is encouraged. To me, (didn't grow up in the US) it feels like you're saying, "Oh, she might be self conscious about having brown eyes!! How irresponsible of her parents to neglect getting her contacts!"

Also, it really isn't any of your business how much money they make and what they spend it on. If you don't like their spending habits, don't give them money, and just smile and nod when they complain. Now, if it were a life-or-death situation we're dealing with, like not taking the kiddos to the doctor for necessary visits, then I would totally say something.

Jeez, apologies if this came across as harsh. Seriously. I've just dealt with a lifetime of annoying comments. SNAGGLES 4 EVA.
posted by functionequalsform at 1:27 PM on February 28, 2011 [29 favorites]

I read a lovely story when I was a kid about a schoolteacher who gets one of her young students very necessary eyeglasses. The girl's parents are migrant workers who can't afford them. When they ask about paying the teacher back she tells the parents and the kid that she hopes some day when she's an adult the girl will do a similar thing for another child in need.
posted by mareli at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're obviously a very caring person, but unfortunately this is a clear cut case of Mind Your Own Business.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

In general, I agree with the people who say that it'd unfortunately be best if you stayed out of this one. Maybe -- at most -- if they said in passing that "yeah, we really need to get her taken to an orthodontist sometime," you could say, "hey, I heard so-and-so is good and has a good insurance plan," to encourage them a bit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:39 PM on February 28, 2011

You can't lend people money and then use that to leverage them to raise the kids the way you want. Despite your good intentions, in my opinion, this is not a good thing to do. You knew their level of fiscal responsibility, you lent them money, that doesn't give you the right to step in and monitor their every transaction.

Change the situation. You buy a dog. You raise the dog, spend sleepless nights looking after the dog, cleaning after the dog etc. Then your friends step in and say you are irresponsible in raising your dog? Oh and that you can't manage your finances? They hint that they would do a much better job of taking care of the dog.
posted by Admira at 1:40 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Put your effort into mentoring the kids, so that they go to post-secondary and get good jobs they like with benefits. They can still get braces in their 20s, if they want to do so. Lots of people in the tech sector have braces. Braces and laser eye surgery were very popular when I was working in software. Plus your efforts at mentoring will provide lots of benefits, without making anyone feel bad.
posted by acoutu at 1:45 PM on February 28, 2011

Suggest or ask about it once or twice. If they don't do anything about it then, oh well, it's on their Karma for spending money on frivolity instead of their child's well-being. If they get offended, tough shit, at least it'll be on your Karma that you tried to help and put Anne's interest above the parent's ego.
posted by Neekee at 1:46 PM on February 28, 2011

- stop lending them money. If they can afford guns, they don't need to borrow money from you.

- I can feel strongly both ways about this. My dentist happens to be one of my best friends, and when my older son's teeth started coming in very crowded, she (correctly) suggested I take him to the orthodontist (who just happens to be her dental school roomy). So I did. The orthodontist made a pitch about "early orthodontics," but did come down on the side of "wait," because my son was only about 10. She said "wait til about 12 and re-evaluate." And my son has had a major growth spurt, and while he may yet need braces, I'm far from convinced that it's a good idea, or will be a good idea, to put my son through it while he's still growing. No bite or eating problems, so I'm not going to fix something cosmetic while his teeth are still moving around in his head.

I say all that to say this. Orthodontics are HELLA expensive, and as others have been pointed out can be done at later ages. Be VERY careful about judging others for not going ahead with it.

If you have the money and can afford it, AND if it's really a medical issue (jaw, bite, eating problems), you might consider making it a gift to one or both of the girls, if it can be done gracefully. But as others have said, the US is really obsessed with straightening teeth. I teach woodwinds on the side, and it seems 90% of the kids who can afford lessons are also getting their teeth straightened. A lot of it is not necessary.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:53 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I needed braces as a kid. Dentist said so. Said so about my brother and sister, too. My parents didn't get us braces, I think because of a combination of not really having the money and also thinking it was a huge hassle.

For a while, the second part bothered me; my parents thought lots of things were a huge hassle, including occasionally "clean laundry." It wasn't the crooked teeth that specifically bothered me.

I grew up and needed a zillion fillings as a young twenty-something. A zillion. I wanted to blame it on the crowding, but the dentist said it was probably my battery acid saliva more than anything. Also my habit of eating Peeps for breakfast. My brother and sister have never had any dental problems- no fillings for my brother, one tiny one for my sister.

Years ago, when I was a grownup, I told my parents, idly, that I wanted braces. I hated my teeth, especially my bicuspids which never came in all the way. My parents now had more money and put some aside for me in a special savings account to get braces. It's still there, even though I don't really want the braces that much. It was really nice of them to offer me that money.

My parents did the best they could. Jessica's parents are probably doing the best they can. Mention it once, or offer to pay for it, and let it go. And urge your friend, and her daughter, to smile. I look a lot happier in the photos where you can see my crooked teeth.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:56 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that it is good of you to care about this - I had braces when I was about 12, and I looked so much better once my teeth were fixed - Talk to the kid about it and see if she would like to get her teeth sorted out. I wasn't crazy about the process at the time, but I was very happy to look pretty afterwards, and the earlier it gets done the less time they have to stay on, as far as I remember it. If the kid is interested in having it done, you could offer to pay for it as a gift to her, which might go over better with the parents.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:59 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

my teeth are completely jacked up. i didn't get braces for a lot of reasons when i was a kid. i don't think i'll spend money on them now as there are better things to spend my money on. you know the only time i'm embarrassed about my mouth? when some do-gooder makes it clear that they value me less because of it. if the anger and frustration i'm feeling right now is any indication, bringing this up with the parents or child could end your friendship.
posted by nadawi at 2:02 PM on February 28, 2011 [10 favorites]

The very fastest way to lose a friendship is to be critical of someone's child. The second fastest is to be critical of their parenting skills or choices. I don't think you will be successful in changing how they spend their money, what they prioritize, or what they think about the importance of orthodontia for their children.
posted by Houstonian at 2:06 PM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

As an adult who still needs braces, who has needed them since I was a kid and still hasn't done it... you don't need to say anything. For several reasons my vote is for STFU:
(a) trust me, if you've noticed, they've noticed. It's not like you're going to be telling them anything new.
(b) How they spend their money, ill-advised or not, is absolutely none of your business. You loaning them money in the past and future not withstanding - it's your choice to lend money, and it's their choice to determine how they spend their money, borrowed or not.
(c) There may be medical reasons behind their decisions you're not aware of (for example, no ortho will touch my mess without me agreeing to surgery, which right now is a deal-breaker). And medical reasons, existing or not, are again none of your business if the parents don't want it to be.

But it can be a very, very touchy subject (or perhaps I'm projecting my own issues here), but I'd just be there for the kids in every way you're comfortable... but hinting that the parents are failing in some form or another as parents because their kids aren't sporting very expensive orthodontics, and are hence flawed and need fixing, is crossing a line.
posted by cgg at 2:09 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

The adults have made noises about getting Jessica braces for years but have not so much as made an appointment.

The parents are aware that there is a problem. They are not taking action for whatever reason. It's not like you're going into this telling them something that they haven't already voiced concern over. I think it's one thing to be brutal and tell them that she urgently needs braces. It's another thing to hear them batting this idea around for years without any follow-up on their part.

Is there the possibility that they are mentioning this in hopes that you will step up and pay for it - given that you've lent them money in the past?

Regarding their spending habits. Buying gadgets, a new laptop, a few guns here and there might not seem like such a financial obligation as committing to spending 3k-5k on braces. Even though their purchases of frivolous items over the years probably exceed the cost of orthodontia those purchases were probably not such a huge commitment or such a large number when looked at as a few items here and there.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:14 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

It was painfully obvious that I needed braces as a kid. I had one tooth that grew on top of another tooth, and people would constantly ask me when I was getting braces.

My orthodontist was very honest that I could either have braces for my entire childhood, or for a year once my teeth stopped growing. Considering how much I hated braces for that first year of college, I'm very grateful I didn't have to deal with them for eight years.
posted by politikitty at 2:16 PM on February 28, 2011

Unless you believe that the child is having a medical difficulty, you should not mention it. Braces for non-medical reasons are an aesthetic choice - even if your friend Anne feel self-concious about her teeth, she may also not believe in cosmetic orthodontics. Or they may be waiting for their daughter to be old enough to make her own decisions - my husband, who had braces as a child, wishes his parents had not insisted on straightening his teeth and is strongly opposed to imposing straightness on children's teeth when there is no medical reason for it.

If the child is in pain or having trouble chewing, then take it up with her parents. If she isn't, then don't. And if she seems self-concious, tell her she is beautiful, including her teeth (not in spite of them). All children need to be told they are awesome and beautiful, because they are.
posted by jb at 2:25 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had braces as a teenager. My teeth are now much nicer than they would have been (I saw the original casts a few years back and they were pretty crooked), but I'm still not sure I'd go through it again or put any child through that. It was 2 years of constant pain and torture. I had daily headaches (carried tylenol everywhere), constant soreness (I still have scars on the inside of my cheeks 16 years later), could barely ea for several days when they were tightened and it was huge inconvenience for me and my mother. I also missed considerable school time going back and forth to appointments.

If her teeth aren't causing her pain, I would stay out of it.
posted by *becca* at 2:32 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your heart is in the right place, but you say nothing.

It's simply none of your business.
posted by Bonzai at 2:40 PM on February 28, 2011

If it is a medical issue, as in she is unable to eat because of her teeth, please ignore this.

A friend's child did not need braces. His teeth were not "orthodontist straight" but pretty darn good. When they did not get him braces, and told their friends and neighbours so, the reaction was as if they had made him sleep outside. Not everyone needs them.

Braces hurt like heck, and I was more self conscious about my braces than I ever was about my funny teeth (which did need to be fixed to fix my bite).

There may be other reasons they are waiting.
posted by titanium_geek at 2:43 PM on February 28, 2011

Once upon a time, I was Jessica.

When I was 9-10, it was obvious that I was going to need braces. My dentist, however, recommended that my parents wait until I'd lost all my baby teeth. Which they did.

Then, when I was around 12, and the ideal age for braces, my parents went through this weird "haha being a grownup sucks" phase and started acting like 20 year olds with access to daddy's credit card. Braces for me went out the window.

In the end, I never did get those braces. Now I'm 29 and I have horrible teeth. Which I am disinclined to do anything about, because I don't have the money and it's not like I need to have perfect teeth (in a cosmetic sense).

I really wish someone had said something about it, or really about any of the borderline neglectful crap they put us kids through. Not out of judgment, but out of the desire to shake some sense into my parents.
posted by Sara C. at 2:46 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I finally got braces much later in life than I should have, and even though my teeth are now straight and my mouth a lot more comfortable, I'm still a tad reluctant at first to show my teeth when I smile or laugh.

I think straight teeth will do wonders for her self-confidence, and I think self-confidence is an important thing to instill in a child.

That said, I'm not sure I'd have wanted family friends telling my parents how they should spend their money.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:52 PM on February 28, 2011

Stories like Sara's above make me want to emphasize that your heart IS in the right place, and your concern for the kids is good. Shitty parents get away with being shitty parents because no-one wants to side with the kids and/or figures that it's none of their business.

Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do to compel the parents to pay for Jessica's braces, and there is the caveat that shitty parents can get really defensive if called upon their behavior and often respond by cutting their kids off from anyone who shows concern for them.

You can (nicely) mention braces to them, give a referral to an orthodontic clinic, even offer to pay for the braces yourself if you wish, but you can't compel the parents to do the right thing. But don't let that discourage you - kids NEED adults like you in their lives. Be there for them, encourage them, mentor them, above all show them that there are caring adults in the world that aren't like their parents.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:54 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ask Jessica if she wants you to suggest it to her parents.

I had braces. Some posters above said they thought it was torture. For me, it wasn't torture at all. It was no big deal. Years later, I'm completely happy that we made the effort to get my teeth straightened. I like my smile and I still wear my retainer occasionally.

Setting aside the money, braces do require a bit of effort from the parents. Monthly appointments for several years. Even if you prod them into the orthodontist's office, they may not have the required diligence for follow up.
posted by 26.2 at 2:57 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

No answer about the situation with the kid but stop loaning these people money.

Actually, you know what? A lot of people here are saying it's "none of your business" and "you don't know you don't have kids", just having kids doesn't automatically and magically make you somebody capable of raising them and making consistently good decisions that will be positive for those kids in the long-term. It isn't a special series of chemicals that get released just because there's something running around that halfway looks like you. There are enough fucked up kids with useless shitbag parents on this planet. Talk to the kid, and talk to these folks. If I had had the balls to stand up to a lot of rubbish parents (who happened to be my relatives) over the course of my life I would know significantly fewer useless drug addicts, alcoholics, and hopeless cases. Not saying this is what will happen. I don't know. If it were me, I'd say something, and if the end result was they were out of my lives forever, well, good riddance.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:58 PM on February 28, 2011 [11 favorites]

All I can say is, there was an endless parade of adults in my childhood who looked the other way (it's not my business, there's nothing I can do, your mom knows best) as my mom did things that made my life suck, and there were a handful who tried to stand up for me. It rarely worked, but I vividly remember each and every time an adult stuck his or her neck out for me, and will always be grateful for that.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:06 PM on February 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

A year or so ago I was taking a fun class with my (then) 3 year-old. The two of us were chit chatting with each other. Nice little conversation. After we stopped talking, the mother sitting across from us asked me if I'd ever had him tested for speech problems because she couldn't understand a word he had said (as she overheard our conversation). Now, I knew that sometimes he was difficult to understand, but being around him all the time I had learned to understand his language. It wasn't until this other person mentioned it that I really was able to see the severity of the situation. He was then tested and placed in a preschool to help him with his speech (and has since graduated!).

My point is that although I knew that his speech wasn't all that great, I couldn't really see how bad it was - that he was quite literally unintelligible by pretty much everyone but me. It took an outsider to point it out. Someone who could have kept their mouth shut. I'm not a bad mother. But sometimes you just don't know how bad it is until someone says something or until someone notices it too. Like I said, I kinda knew that his speech was sub-par, but at the same time I thought that perhaps I was imagining how bad it was, or exaggerating my concerns. I am so so grateful for that woman who spoke up.

Do Jessica's parents need the confirmation from someone that yes, Jessica does need some orthodontia intervention? Are they used to her teeth and the severity of the problem has lessened in their eyes - as happened with my son and his speech?
posted by Sassyfras at 3:21 PM on February 28, 2011

Jessica will likely hear from her classmates that she should get braces, or her teacher. It's just not your place.

If you tell Jessica or her mom that she needs braces, then the translation of "You could look better in the future if you got braces now" might make her feel ugly.
posted by anniecat at 3:28 PM on February 28, 2011

Jessica will likely hear from her classmates that she should get braces

You mean wait for the bullying to kick in?

I guess she'll get bullied either way, though. Kids are jerks.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:33 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it's only for cosmetic reasons, no one "needs" braces. Crooked teeth are fine as long as they aren't causing you any kind of physical discomfort or affecting your ability to eat and chew food. The fact that some people tell other people that they need braces, even when it's only for cosmetic reasons, is what causes people to become self conscious about their crooked teeth. Teeth do not need to be perfectly straight to be beautiful. That can be said about any other physical characteristic as well.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:24 PM on February 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

My wife "needed" braces at age 12 (for cosmetic reasons FWIW). My in-laws were willing to take out a loan to pay for them (indeed, they *did* take out a loan for my sister-in-law who did get braces). My wife told her parents in no uncertain terms that she would not be subject to the embarrassment of having braces. And that was that.

The only reason I mention this little anecdote is to illustrate that their are plenty of different reasons why little Jessica does not (yet) have braces. You can't know what has been discussed in private.

And lending them money doesn't give you the right to decide what they can or can't spend it on. If they are spending it on frivolous stuff (in your opinion), then stop lending to them!
posted by humpy at 4:46 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your heart is totally in in the right place, but as a soon-to-be-parent, if we were friends and you told me what my child did or did not need without my asking your opinion - we wouldn't stay friends for long.

Trust your friends care about their child and if they're not parenting the way you would, trust that they have their reasons.
posted by sonika at 4:50 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I generally keep my discomfort with various things to myself but this is has begun to weigh heavily on me, perhaps because I had to badger my parents into setting me up with orthodonture as a teen. I can only imagine the social discomfort to be worse as a very young woman and worry about her.

I have no idea how common this is, for a kid to beg for braces, but it seems like you may be making some assumptions here about Jessica wanting the braces and her parents not doing it, based on your experiences. My experience was totally different. My teeth were (and are) pretty darn crooked and braces were recommended. My parents asked me if I wanted them and said they'd pay if I did, but also said I didn't have to if I didn't want to. I said no because my friends and classmates hated theirs and found them painful and annoying and embarassing, and I didn't think it was worth it for the sake of having straighter teeth. In fact, I thought I was fantastically lucky not to be forced to get braces the way my friends had been. Maybe Jessica feels the same way.

I think there's a broader issue here, and even if you would in fact be swooping in as a hero to rescue Jessica from her parents refusal to pay for the braces she desperately wants, I think that's still problematic. But (unless you have evidence to the contrary) you should keep in mind that she may be perfectly fine with the situation and you may just be projecting based on your own experiences.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 5:09 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

You mean wait for the bullying to kick in?

eesh, yea, before I had braces the lovely children I went to school with delighted in giving me the charming pet name "ugly"
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:35 PM on February 28, 2011

eesh, yea, before I had braces the lovely children I went to school with delighted in giving me the charming pet name "ugly"

And the kids wouldn't think there was anything wrong with your teeth in the first place if the parents didn't project their ideas of right and wrong teeth onto the children. Saying a child needs braces only because the kid's teeth are crooked is wrong.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:47 PM on February 28, 2011

I think the best you can do for this young woman is to encourage her to believe in herself and her entitlement to smile and enjoy her body. That's much better than perpetuating the idea that crooked teeth are something to be self-conscious about onto a second generation - and if the mother has body/self-image issues it's that much more likely that the daughter will to.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:49 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

i also agree with trying to talk to Jessica. true, maybe there is some reason that you don't know about. if there is, she'll tell you.

but . . . maybe there is no good reason, or she doesn't know what it is. i also really needed braces and my parents didn't get them for me. i never really knew why for sure. i think at the end of the day it came down to the money, but the thing is, they probably could have afforded them. they were just bad at managing their money. i ended up being really self conscious about it all throughout high school and college, as one by one my friends suddenly became knockout gorgeous when the braces came off, and i was left behind. at 20, my teeth still looked like they did when i was twelve and i hated it. as soon as i graduated college and got my first real job, i got myself braces. i paid six thousand dollars out of pocket because my insurance didn't cover it, and frequently felt embarrassed to be in my mid twenties with braces. now that i have them off i feel like i just have this huge weight lifted off my shoulders. i dont worry about people looking at me when i laugh anymore. i actually smile in pictures.

thats why you ought to talk to her. some people care about this more than others. if one of my parents friends had brought up the subject with me, i probably would have begged them to do anything within their power to convince my parents. if they had wanted to offer my parents money, i'd have begged them to consider it.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 7:15 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I echo the ideas about talking to Jessica and also generally being there for her so that she can hopefully grow up to be a responsible adult. If she is actually interested in braces, then you can bring it up tactfully to her parents. And if she doesn't get the braces now, just keep quiet and when she is older maybe you can give her a "down payment" if she wants to pay for them herself.

Incidentally I have a friend (named Jessica actually) who got braces in law school and paid for them herself. I don't know why she didn't get them when she was younger, or how badly she "needed" them, but she was able to work out a payment plan while in law school and not rolling in money...my point being that if she doesn't get them as a kid, all hope is not lost.
posted by radioamy at 8:57 PM on February 28, 2011

Sorry, is everyone reading over the part about how Jessica doesn't smile and covers her mouth when she laughs? It's great that most of the people posting here who have crooked teeth are so unencumbered, but it doesn't sound like Jessica is. I would note the observation to the parents, and ask if they think she's uncomfortable.
posted by namesarehard at 9:42 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry, is everyone reading over the part about how Jessica doesn't smile and covers her mouth when she laughs?

I think the OP was describing the mother, not Jessica, in that part.
posted by lwb at 10:35 PM on February 28, 2011

I think I would probably mind my own business.
And I would stop lending them money.

This. Seriously.
posted by Decani at 3:15 AM on March 1, 2011

How old is Jessica? If she's fairly young (under 14 or 15), and she's got a fair amount of upper crowding, you might just point out (again, once) that if they do not get an expander in her ASAP, if her upper jaw fuses it becomes a hell of a lot harder to fit all those teeth actually in there without extractions. Although extractions are really not the end of the world.

But seriously, there are needs and wants, and mostly, braces are a want. Insecurity about your looks is not best served by really expensive medical procedures that *can* result in permanent damage as well as benefits. I spent about $7k on mine even after insurance coverage from my parent covering its maximum, and I still have permanent enamel damage from mis-applied adhesive in several places. This could have just as easily have happened when I was a kid as once I was (mostly) grown, although it might have gone slightly faster if I'd had the expanding done.

They go fine for a lot of people, mind, and I don't fault anybody for deciding to do it, but to say that it's so much a necessity that it's neglect not to? No, I don't think so.
posted by gracedissolved at 7:06 AM on March 1, 2011

Gracedissolved makes a good point: braces work better while your jaw is still growing (so, like, before high school ends if possible.) Sure, it's possible to get braces as an adult but it can end up being more complicated- taking longer, costing more, and with the results less likely to be permanent.

I feel that orthodontia is an expense that ought to be considered when you have a child, and it should be budgeted for early just in case. My parents didn't do this. it sure seemed like everyone elses' parents did though. parents ought to be responsible for addressing orthodontic problems, rather than leaving the kid to deal with how much it sucks. it's not like she can go out and get them on her own at 14, or 16, or even at 20 most likely. by the time she can afford them she'll have had to go through all of high school and probably college feeling self-conscious. and if her parents are like mine- which from the OP, it sounds like they are- she will feel hurt by the fact that her parents chose to waste money on other things for themselves when this was something she so obviously needed. paying 6k for my own braces wouldn't have sucked so much if my parents were truly broke, but they're not. they are always going on cruises and remodeling shit in the house. why couldn't they have cut back on some of the extraneous stuff in order to fix our teeth? i have no idea but to this day it still bugs me a lot.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 10:22 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are close enough that you loan them money, aren't you also close enough to say "when is Jessica getting her braces?"
posted by agentwills at 5:07 PM on March 1, 2011

It's reversible or at least preventable by chewing tough things and getting proper nutrition. But I think it's even less easy to bring it up this way!
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:18 PM on March 1, 2011

Stay out of it.
posted by spaltavian at 8:36 PM on March 1, 2011

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