Children often worry about getting braces. While they may like the idea of perfect teeth, they get nervous about whether the braces will cause pain and discomfort – and how they will look. The good news is: Braces are not at all painful, and nowadays they can look really cool.
Is there an advantage to getting braces for kids?
Most of the time, yes. Although braces can benefit people of any age, they usually work faster on pre-teens and teenagers because their jaws are still growing. However, don’t wait until the pre-teen years to have your child evaluated for braces. The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends, and Dr. Manilla concurs, that children should first be evaluated by an orthodontist at least by age 7. Sometimes early treatment can prevent more expensive, difficult treatment later on. If facial or oral irregularities are noted, it may be beneficial to have a child seen even younger than age 7.
What causes misalignment of a child’s teeth?
Most bite irregularities in children are genetic or they occur as a result of development problems or bad habits, such as:
- cleft lip and palate
- mouth breathing
- thumb or finger sucking
- frequent use of a pacifier
- prolonged bottle feeding
- injuries to the jaw
- tumors in the mouth or jaw
- poor dental care
What’s involved when a child gets braces?
The orthodontist first conducts a visual examination of the child’s teeth. This will be accompanied by panoramic x-rays, study models (bite impressions) and computer-generated images of the child’s head and neck. These preliminary assessments are sometimes known as the “planning phase” because they aid the orthodontist in making a diagnosis and determining the most effective treatment.
What are the child’s choices for braces?
For most children, the orthodontist will recommend “fixed” braces. Fixed braces are cemented to the teeth so the child cannot remove them, and then threaded with wires. Treatment with fixed braces tends to be completed in the shortest time.
With fixed braces – whether metal, enamel or clear – the orthodontist will adjust the wires at each visit to gently move the teeth into proper position. Sometimes rubber bands will be added to move specific teeth – but these now come in spiffy colors.
For certain problems, the child may need additional appliances or headgear. Headgear is most useful to treat developmental irregularities. It is a custom-made appliance that attaches to a wire to aid in tooth movement. It is usually worn 12-20 hours a day.
For teens, Invisalign is a popular choice. Invisalign consists of nearly invisible plastic trays, or aligners, that are molded to the teeth. These trays are removable, and the child must be able to take responsibility for wearing them for the full time required and not lose them.
The Invisalign system moves teeth through a series of computer-generated trays that gradually realign the teeth. Invisalign may require fewer office visits, but the orthodontist will provide the new trays and monitor progress.
Whatever type of braces a child or teen chooses, retainers are nearly always necessary when the braces come off. Immediately after the teeth have been moved, they have a tendency to regress back to their original misalignment. Wearing a retainer ensures the jawbone around the teeth has time to stabilize and the teeth maintain their new, proper positions.