Bracing for Braces

Parents often receive mixed messages about the best time to seek orthodontic treatment for their child. Should you see an orthodontist when your child still has his baby teeth or wait until the permanent teeth have erupted?

Should you wait until it’s obvious that your child has an issue or consult an orthodontist before problems are evident? The truth is there is not a universal age or time to start treatment because every child has a unique mouth that warrants an individualized treatment plan. The American Association of Orthodontics suggests that all kids be evaluated by age seven, at which time they should have reached several dental and skeletal growth milestones. 

“At age seven the permanent teeth in the front and back start to erupt and we can get an idea if there will be a bite issue such as crowding, inadequate room for teeth to grow in, overbite issues or open bite issues where teeth do not come together in front,” says Dr. Steven Siegel at Orthodontists of Maryland. Other common issues include narrow jaws, oral habits like thumb or finger sucking, speech issues and sleep issues.

Just because you bring your child to an orthodontist does not mean that he will require work. “Most parents just want to know that things are okay and we can give them peace of mind and self-assurance,” says Siegel. Some kids come in every six months or once a year to have things monitored. “One of the most common orthodontist treatments done at an early age in children, perhaps seven to nine years of age, is palate expansion,” says Siegel, “which is when a child has too narrow a roof of the mouth or palate and it can result in significant problems such as cross-bites or dental crowding.”

While it may seem like seven is young to visit an orthodontist, most children don’t start treatment until they are several years older. But it’s good to have an idea of what issues your child might be facing, and monitor the situation over the next few years.

There is no reason to feel anxious about orthodontic treatment. Malocclusions (imperfect positioning of the teeth when the jaws are closed) are treated in a faster and easier manner than ever before due to the advances in braces. “We have metal or ceramic (clear) which are permanently fixed to the teeth for the treatment duration,” says Annapolis orthodontist Dr. Mairead O’Reilly. Metal braces are still the most common treatment of misaligned teeth due to consistency of treatment success and cost-effectiveness. Lingual braces, which adhere to the backsides of teeth, are also an option, though they are significantly more expensive than traditional braces.

GettyImages 842727584For older teenagers, and adults as well, Invisalign aligners have become increasingly popular because they are invisible and more comfortable to wear. “You can think of them as very thin plastic slip covers,” says Seigel, “a whole series is made and each one is designed to move the teeth a little bit.”

Parents and kids are always welcome to schedule a consult where the orthodontist can look at the teeth and probably take a panoramic X-ray to see what is going on under the gums. Today’s X-ray machines give off significantly less radiation than the machines of the past, and are quite safe. You will usually leave the appointment with options to correct the problem and customized treatment goals to think about. It is important to consider the length of time required for treatment, frequency of visits as well as the cost. Getting a second opinion is always a good idea as well; it’s perfectly acceptable to compare costs and treatment options from other orthodontists in your area.

Now that you know when to start your children’s orthodontics visits, what can you expect next? Well, that depends on a lot of factors. You could visit once or twice a year after an initial consult, or your child could need procedures done right away. If your child needs braces, you can factor in an average cost of $5,000–$6,000, though that average sways widely depending on the severity of your child’s planned treatment. Also varying widely will be the average time in an orthodontist’s care. A successful braces treatment can last anywhere from 12 to 36 months, with 24 months being the average, according to the American Association of Orthodontics.

If you have dental insurance, your child’s treatments could be covered, though often braces are considered cosmetic and aren’t fully covered. It’s best to check with your health and dental insurance providers first before making assumptions on coverage. It’s all costly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it!

Most important, do not take matters into your own hands. A do-it-yourself orthodontics trend is on the rise.     “Someone may go on YouTube and see or learn from others how to move their own teeth if they have a little space between their front teeth, and that can be very harmful,” says Siegel. There are companies offering home impression kits to make molds of your teeth and other accessories that people are using to treat themselves with little or no supervision, which is dangerous. “A number of things can go wrong when people try to treat themselves,” says Siegel. When you have a trustworthy orthodontist as a partner and advocate your child will be on the road to improved oral health, improved self-esteem and a picture-perfect smile.

To find an orthodontist be sure to visit our Favorite Docs page to see who our readers consider to be top providers!

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