Visiting an orthodontist’s office and wearing braces used to be common—and commonly unwelcome—experiences of adolescence. But over the last few decades, the types of orthodontics have become more comfortable, attractive, and effective.
They’re also no longer mostly for tweens and teens. Adult braces aren’t unusual, and orthodontics for kids is also widely accepted.
If your child has crooked teeth, pain when chewing or biting, or other problems with their teeth and jaws, you may have wondered whether orthodontic treatment could help.
As home to some of the leading children’s dentists in Philadelphia, PA, Penn Dental Family Practice (PDFP) often fields questions about orthodontics for kids from concerned parents and other adult caregivers. Keep reading for some of the most common, along with expert answers.
How Do I Know if My Child Needs Orthodontics?
Only a professional orthodontist can conclusively diagnose a malocclusion or “bad bite,” and determine whether treatment would benefit your child.
The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends you take your child to an orthodontist’s office for evaluation if you notice:
- Early or late loss of baby (primary) teeth.
- Difficulty chewing or biting (including constant cheek biting).
- Excessive breathing through the mouth.
- Shifting or clicking jaws.
- Imbalanced facial features.
What’s the Best Age for a First Visit to the Orthodontist?
Unless you notice one of the above symptoms, in which case you should go sooner, the AAO recommends children receive their first orthodontic evaluation around age 7. You don’t need to wait for a general pediatric dentist to refer your child.
Why that age? By age 7, most children have a mix of primary and adult teeth. Orthodontists can spot problems before they become more serious. They will examine the visible teeth and take X-rays to screen for problems below the gum line such as missing, extra, misplaced, or impacted teeth.
What Orthodontics for Kids Are Available?
Your pediatric orthodontist will decide what treatment options make the most sense for your child’s specific needs. Possibilities include:
Traditional braces—metal brackets affixed to the front of the teeth, connected and tightened by archwires and elastics—remain a common, effective way to bring teeth into proper position. Sometimes, brackets have fun shapes like stars or footballs.
Ceramic braces use clear or tooth-colored brackets, making them less conspicuous than traditional braces. However, ceramic braces are also more fragile and more difficult to keep clean. They also tend to cost more than metal braces.
Clear, medical-grade plastic aligners are made specifically for the patient’s teeth. These “invisible braces” move teeth into position “a fraction of a millimeter at a time.” Patients replace aligners every one to two weeks.
Aligners work best when straightening crooked teeth or resolving mild to moderate bite issues. Children will need the self-control to wear aligners at least 22 hours daily. On the plus side, aligners don’t come with the food restrictions that traditional braces do, and they allow for an easier time keeping teeth clean.
Retainers aren’t an alternative to braces. Instead, they help teeth stay in their new places after patients have finished wearing braces.
Removable wire retainers (Hawley retainers) are molded to fit comfortably against the roof of the patient’s mouth. Their color can be customized, a fact some children—and some adults—appreciate. Clear, removable retainers and fixed, lingual retainers (bonded to the back side of the teeth) are also options, depending on a patient’s situation.
Mouthguards protect teeth from trauma, whether it’s athletic injuries or teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism). Children active in sports or who have bruxism—as many do; three out of 10 children grind their teeth before age 5—can benefit from a mouthguard.
Although consumers can purchase over-the-counter, “boil and bite” mouthguards, orthodontists recommend custom-made mouthguards for the best fit, protection, and comfort. Mouthguards aren’t alternatives to braces because they don’t move your teeth. But patients wearing braces can also wear mouthguards.
Some problems of the jaw require surgical correction. Usually, orthodontic surgery (officially called orthognathic surgery) takes place after braces or other orthodontic treatment moves the teeth so they will be properly aligned after the surgery. Patients may need to continue treatment after surgery to finish moving the teeth into their best positions.
When Should a Child Start Orthodontic Treatment?
If the orthodontist determines your child needs treatment, it’s best to begin the treatment as soon as possible. “Early treatment … can guide the growth of facial and jaw bones into a better growth pattern and provide more space for incoming permanent teeth,” the AAO explains.
As discussed earlier, your child should have their initial orthodontic evaluation by age 7. Treatment, however, most commonly occurs between ages 8-14. It can also begin at age 7 or even age 6.
At whatever age they start, orthodontics for kids is a wise investment in lifelong better oral health and a more beautiful smile.
Philadelphia Orthodontists at PDFP Keep the Region’s Kids Smiling
When the children you care for need special care for their smiles, trust the Philadelphia pediatric orthodontists at Penn Dental Family Practice.
In addition to some of the most skilled pediatric dentists in Philadelphia, PA, our team includes experienced and respected pediatric orthodontists. They can screen your child’s mouth for potential orthodontic problems and provide age-appropriate treatments that produce long-term positive results.
Don’t think you need to wait until your children become teens to get them the orthodontic care they need. Schedule your appointment online now or call us at 215-898-PDFP (7337).