“Your child needs braces” is a phrase that many parents just dread. There are many horror stories of children needing braces, and they certainly tend to cost a lot. Many children hate the idea too: there are so many cases of bullies.
There are other kids who look forward to them. After all, braces may mean bits of metal in the mouth at first, but they do also mean straight teeth in the years to come. For many children, the idea of needing braces means that they’re growing up.
But does your child need braces? Is this the best way to help improve their dental hygiene? Are dentists sometimes too quick to recommend them?
It’s time for a guide on kids and braces. Here’s a look at when your kids will need them and what you can do about them.
Why Will Kids Need Braces?
Let’s look at the reason for braces first. Most people will jump to the conclusion of crooked teeth. This is certainly one of the main reasons dentists will suggest children visit an orthodontist. However, braces aren’t just used for this reason.
They can help to settle overlapping teeth, an overcrowded mouth, and help to draw teeth together after one is removed. “Bad bites” are also commonly used as reasons for getting braces. The “bad bite” is also known as a malocclusion, and it when the top and bottom jaws differ in sizes. One or the other will be bigger. If it’s the upper jaw, your child will have an overbite. When it’s the lower jaw, your child has an underbite.
Tooth loss is a common reason and happens for all sorts of reasons. With younger children, it tends to be due to an accident or mouth trauma. The tooth is knocked out without any sign of it falling out before hind. Baby teeth can fall out earlier than expected naturally, but the tooth loss can also be due to lack of care or because of an illness.
When the teeth fall out, children may need braces to support the others. You see, your teeth offer support to each other tooth in the mouth. When a tooth falls out earlier than expected, the other teeth can move into the gap or grow sideways to get support from the tooth on the other side of the gap. If this happens early with the baby teeth, it can mean overlapping of the adult teeth.
Thumb sucking can also cause a problem. When your child sucks their thumb, they pull the teeth forward and out of line with the gums. They need braces to put the teeth back in the right place.
Crooked or overcrowded teeth are more difficult to clean. Even a child with good oral hygiene can find it difficult to get into all the cracks. It’s easy for food, bacteria, and plaque to be overlooked, so they’re left to cause gum disease and decay.
But do any of these issues mean braces are required?
Not necessarily. Dentists and orthodontists will want to look into the timing of the tooth loss, the placement of the teeth, and will also consider x-rays to see the location of the adult teeth. Braces will be suggested if they believe that the mouth will experience pain or problems from crooked, overlapping, or lost teeth.
Dentists Will Make the Initial Suggestion
You will usually see a dentist every 6-12 months. Your dentist is the first place to start when it comes to any mouth worries, and it could be your dentist who will suggest braces, to begin with.
Your dentist will be the one to see changes in the teeth. They’ll see where and how the current teeth are sitting and discover if there are any hard to reach places with the toothbrush. Dentists also tend to take x-rays to find out the location of the adult teeth. This is mainly to be proactive about any potential future issues.
A dentist can’t place braces. Yours will send you to an orthodontist for further examination. This is a dentist who specializes in teeth alignment, jaw problems, and overcrowding of teeth. It will be the orthodontist who suggests whether braces are needed or not.
There’s no age set for when the first orthodontist trip is necessary. For some children, the first trip is at the age of 6. There will be others who don’t have to go until they are teenagers. Some children don’t go at all, and it’s only when they’re adults that they’re recommended to visit an orthodontist. It really will depend on the placement of the teeth and the worry from the dentist.
The majority of children will visit around the age of 7. This is when the adult teeth usually start to break through or show signs of breaking through, and when most of the overcrowding and “bad bite” problems can appear.
During this first visit, Orthodontists will take molds of the teeth and look at x-rays. This is the chance to try to prevent potential damage in the future. While you may not see a problem right now, the orthodontist will think years into the future.
Before suggesting braces, most orthodontists will also want to hear about tooth brushing and oral hygiene. It is harder to get into some parts of the mouth when wearing braces. The specialist will want to make sure that the braces aren’t going to make any oral issues any worse.
Getting the Right Type of Brace
Braces aren’t “one size fits all.” There are different types of braces available to help deal with the various oral problems.
The Train Track Braces. The majority of kids will use the “train track” braces. These are placed on the front of the teeth with brackets, rubber bands, and wires. They will have what look like jeweled fronts in many cases, as a cosmetic way to encourage children to embrace their braces. These braces are commonly used to help straighten out the teeth or pull adult teeth together naturally after removing one.
With “train track” braces, the wires and rubber bands will get tightened over time. This system manipulates the teeth the way that the orthodontist wants.
Some of these types of braces are clear or white. They help to blend in with the teeth as much as possible to avoid bullies or the fear of being bullied. There are some now that can sit at the back of the teeth, so they are invisible. They will be more expensive.
Ceramic options don’t tend to be offered, as orthodontists don’t believe they’re as effective as metal options. They are commonly kept for adults only, due to the aesthetic need to blend in by that age.
Clear Aligners. Another type of brace is a removable one. They’re known as aligners; a use plastic trays that help to move the teeth into place. These types of braces are removable and need to be taken out when eating or drinking anything other than water.
The aligners are usually clear. The idea is that they’re invisible unless someone is looking directly at the teeth. However, there are issues with staining, especially if they’re not removed before eating or they’re not cared for properly.
Some aligners will be used for a small period after the train track braces.
Use of Headgear. You’ve likely seen TV shows where headgear is used with the braces. Many parents worry about the use of these due to school bullies.
However, braces have come a long way over the years. While headgear is still in use, the majority of the time kids will only wear the headgear at night. The headgear helps to provide more force to move the teeth and is usually recommended when at least one tooth mustbe removed due to overcrowding.
Wearing Braces on Baby Teeth. Since baby teeth fall out, there was the belief that braces wouldn’t be needed now. However, orthodontists are now changing their view. It’s now an opinion of many that getting to the teeth early will prevent problems in the future.
Remember that overcrowding and crooked teeth can make teeth cleaning difficult. The gums are left with bacteria and plaque, so they become swollen. This can’t be reversed, so getting to the gums before they’re permanently damaged is essential.
There are also times that a couple of adult teeth will come through at bad angles. The braces are used on all the teeth to help bring the adult teeth down properly.
The age your child will be when they get braces does depend on the problem. If the issue is going to be overcrowding once all adult teeth have broken through, many orthodontists will hold off. If there is a potential issue with current baby teeth but known problems with adult teeth, your child may find they need “two phase” braces.
The “two phase” treatment is controversial. It is more expensive, and there are still studies into whether this is that effective. Waiting for the adult teeth is commonly preferred, as it is cheaper, faster, and easier.
Putting braces on younger children can also be a problem for oral hygiene. Braces do make it harder to get to the teeth for cleaning. Also, other treatments are regularly needed to make sure the teeth and gums are healthy, and the braces don’t collect bacteria.
Certain foods need to be avoided while wearing braces, including popcorn, sticky candy, and gum. This isn’t easy for younger children, especially those who don’t quite have proper impulse control.
There is also the problem of pressure on the teeth. Younger children won’t always understand the pain and will find it harder to deal with. Orthodontists may choose to wait until your child is older to repair the teeth. While some people just find braces uncomfortable, there can be bad pain during a couple of days after getting the braces tightened.
There May Be Other Options
In some cases, there are alternate options instead of getting braces. These options will be considerations made by your dentist and your orthodontist.
The first option is to leave the teeth alone. This can be decided at first as a “wait and see” approach. The teeth may start to look overcrowded now, but they may be better as a child gets older and the mouth gets bigger. Your orthodontist may want to wait, as by waiting a couple of years the teeth may only need braces for a year rather than two.
Some options will involve less-invasive treatments. Retainers are common, especially if the orthodontist wants to start treatment early. Retainers are removable and less damaging to the teeth, so become favored options for younger children. Aligners can also be favored over the train track braces for smaller children.
However, some other options are more invasive. They may require surgery.
There are times that surgical options are required before the use of braces. This is usually to remove a tooth or two to get rid of overcrowding in the mouth.
It’s worth discussing your options. There may be cheaper, just-as-effective options are available. If your only worry is cost and your orthodontist heavily recommends braces, there will usually be some payment plans available to help.
Does Your Child Need Braces?
Only an orthodontist will be able to tell you this for certain. There will be times that your child needs braces immediately and you’ll be able to see it. This is usually if there are extremely crooked teeth that can’t be brushed properly.
Your dentist will be the first port of call. They will look at the teeth and x-rays to make an educated and informed decision over the future of the teeth. If there are any concerns, they will forward your case onto a specialist. Dentists want to put your child’s health first, and that often means straightening out the teeth.
Talk to your dentist and orthodontist and don’t be afraid to get a second professional opinion. You’re the one that makes the final decision for kids’ teeth.