Braces are an investment in your child's oral health, but are they right for every kid? For that matter how do parents know if and when their child needs orthodontic treatments like braces? The idea of braces has been haunting parents and teens for decades. Parents because it's a cost they don't always plan for when budgeting for dental care and kids because they just don’t seem fun to wear.
Despite any drawbacks, braces offer people with certain dental misalignments such as underbites, overbites or malocclusions a chance at improving not just their smile, but the architecture of their mouths and overall dental health for the rest of their lives.
When are braces the right choice for your child, though?
Age Is Just a Number When It Comes to Orthodontics
There really is no right or wrong age for getting orthodontic care—whether that means traditional fixed braces or removable clear aligners. People get braces in their 20s and 30s or even older sometimes. The real question to ask is when to make that first trip to the orthodontist.
On average, the first orthodontic evaluation by a pediatric dentist or orthodontist is usually around age 7. This is not usually when the braces go on, though. A dental professional will evaluate how well permanent teeth are coming in, for example, and how many baby teeth are still in place. That first visit will likely include baseline x-rays of your child's month to monitor teeth positions and see how the new teeth are coming into place.
Most experts recommend parents take their kids for their first dental check up even before their first birthday. Regular visits to the dentist will mean better oral health, improved hygiene and a chance to monitor adult teeth as they erupt. Once those permanent teeth are in, the dentist will want to consider an orthodontic consult.
When Braces Work Best and Why
Braces work by putting a small amount of constant pressure on the teeth. That force causes them to slowly shift in position. The jawbone then grows in a way that provides optimal support for the tooth — a process called remodeling — and stabilize it in its new location. Braces work slowly by design, though, because too much force can make teeth fall out instead of moving to a better position. Once the teeth shift, the orthodontist tightens the braces and the cycle starts over again.
When children are between the ages of 10 and 14, the teeth and jaw are most malleable. The bones are still growing, so the teeth move more readily than they might in an adult. So, generally speaking, ages 10 – 14 are the sweet spot for braces; although, some kids wear them earlier and some people get them as adults. No two mouths are alike which is why an early orthodontic evaluation is so critical.
Talking to Your Kids About Braces
It may not be an easy conversation to have with your child — especially if they’re already resistant to the idea — so before you try, it’s a good idea to talk to your family dentist or an orthodontic specialist about different options available for braces. Today, there are a number of styles braces available, but they don't all work for every situation or child. Get feedback from the dentist before bringing up things like up removable aligner trays, because they might not be an option. Go into it with all the critical information you need to be honest and straightforward, but, encouraging, at the same time.
When you do sit down to talk, focusing on normalizing braces as much as possible—plenty of people have braces (even celebrities have worn them!), and they’re often a necessary step in good dental care. Share your own experiences, if you wore braces or ask another family member who did to be part of the conversation. Getting braces may feel like the end of the world to a teen, but they certainly aren’t. Helping your child see the positives help ease any anxiety.
Make sure you keep the conversation as neutral as possible. Don't bring up costs or the extra trips to the orthodontist. Make this a talk about your child and his or her needs. Braces are a big enough adjustment for a child without feeling guilty about needing them at the same time.
Braces are a big change, but an important one. As a parent, your job is to give kids the dental care they need to keep their natural teeth healthy throughout their lifetime, and that may include braces.