February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! This month-long national health observance brings together thousands of dedicated orthodontic professionals, health-care providers, and others to promote the benefits of good oral health to children and adults, caregivers, teachers and many others. For the final week, we would like to help answer the question, “When should my child get braces?”
As parents, it can be difficult for us to determine not only if our children need braces, but when the optimum time would be for their treatment to begin.
Dental experts believe one of the keys to ensuring a lifetime of straight smiles is an orthodontic screening for every child once they have their permanent teeth, usually by the age of seven or so. Why so soon? Early monitoring by an orthodontist can help identify and address any issues that could become problematic later. But how do you decide which teeth are normal but imperfect, and which will actually require professional treatment? Here are a few ways you can ensure your child is getting proper dental and orthodontic care at the right age.
Regular dental visits from an early age.
The best way to determine whether your children will need braces is to take them to the dentist regularly. All children should have their first visit to the dentist by around age two, and an initial consultation with an orthodontist by around age seven.
Be aware of crowding and abnormal tooth spacing.
Some types of orthodontic problems, called malocclusions, are obvious pretty early on, while others might not look bad but can cause real dental issues if left untreated. Some of the most common malocclusions are crowding (where the teeth bunch up against each other), excessive spacing (where large gaps form between the teeth), and abnormal eruption (one or more teeth appearing in the wrong location.)
Pay attention to an unusual bite or jaw structure.
If left untreated, these misalignments can have lifelong implications. While these issues are often easily corrected in a growing child, they’re much more difficult to reverse in an adult.
Keep an eye on oral behaviors.
Some common childhood behaviors can cause dental problems later on. Thumb sucking, finger sucking, and bottle or pacifier usage past the toddler stage can lead to or aggravate orthodontic problems.
Sometimes a child having trouble biting or chewing my indicate a need for braces, since it could be related to a bad bite. Just be aware that bite or jaw problems don’t always interfere with how a child eats or chews, so don’t rely on that as concrete evidence of anything. These issues are best brought to your orthodontist’s attention.
Listen to their speech and pay attention to their self-esteem.
There are some speech problems that can be directly related to orthodontic issues. Even if your child’s teeth appear relatively straight and normal to you, have them checked out by an orthodontist if they have a speech impediment, just to rule that possibility out. Lisping, especially, can often be dental-related. Some orthodontic issues might seem cosmetic in nature, but if a dental problem is causing real damage to your child’s emotional well-being and self-esteem, it’s worth exploring treatment based on the psychological benefits.
So when is the best time for a child to get braces?
In general, pre-teen (10-12) and early teen (13-14) are the prime ages for wearing braces. In this period of early adolescence, children are still growing at a rapid pace. If you wait too far past that window, many orthodontic issues can become more difficult and expensive to treat as the facial and jaw bones settle into their adult sizes. Although orthodontists today can successfully correct most problems regardless of the patient’s age, starting treatment within this “sweet spot” can play a significant role in the total time and expenses required for the completion of the orthodontic treatment.