The time-honored tradition of getting braces for your kids when they’re in their teens may be changing. These days, it’s becoming more and more common to see braces on much younger kids, even first and second graders! That’s because it’s often advantageous to correct certain problems while your child’s jaw is still growing. Early intervention can help correct problems like overcrowding, and while not all orthodontic problems can be addressed while your child is still learning to read and write, early treatment may make treatments that have to wait until he’s older, shorter and less complicated too.
Younger kids may also be more open to the idea of having braces on their teeth. Teens are self-conscious and may balk at the prospect, although today’s braces are a far cry from the braces you may have worn in your early teens. They’re more comfortable in general, and there are options like clear braces that don’t stand out as much. Fun colored elastics are appealing to younger kids, too. They can choose their favorite color, and even adorn their smiles with colors associated with holidays (e.g., blue for Hannukah, red and green for Christmas or red, white and blue for patriotic holidays like the Fourth of July). It’s a fun way to participate in their own treatment and make the most of the time they spend in braces.
For most kids, their permanent teeth begin emerging at around the age of 6 or 7, and that’s when issues like crossbites, overbites and crowding become apparent. It’s a smart idea to have your child evaluated at that age and doing so doesn’t necessarily mean that she’ll automatically be a candidate for braces. Early intervention can make it possible to expand a too-small upper arch, for example, using a device called a palatal expander. This may serve a couple of purposes:
- Correcting the size of the upper arch can encourage secondary teeth to emerge in a better position than they would without the correction.
- It can also preclude the need to remove some of the permanent teeth in order to correct an overcrowding problem that occurs as a result of a too-small upper arch. In other words, it simplifies the process of aligning teeth with braces later on.
There are also some conditions that require early treatment. Crossbites can cause the jaws to grow unevenly, for example, and teeth that are protruding can be broken, chipped or even knocked out in a fall that occurs while your child is riding his bike or just running and playing, as most kids do on a daily basis.
Treating problems that can be addressed early also has the benefit of making later treatment less involved and less expensive, and gives parents a payment period that’s stretched out over a longer period of time, meaning it may take less of a bite out of the budget all at once.
It’s important to remember that early intervention doesn’t mean that all of your child’s orthodontic problems can be solved before he’s in middle school. There’s still a strong possibility that he’ll need braces when he’s a bit older, but fixing what can be fixed early on can mean a shorter time in braces overall.
Having your child evaluated by an orthodontist earlier in life just makes good, practical sense for everybody concerned. While it’s certainly true that an orthodontist can improve problems no matter what age your child is, but there is definitely an optimal window in which an orthodontist can make maximal improvements, and that’s while bones are still growing and teeth are still emerging!
Dr. Dougherty, St. Louis’ premier orthodontist, loves to work with children of all ages. Early intervention treatment is just one of the ways Dr. Dougherty works with children to get them started on the road to a beautiful, straight, healthy smile! Schedule your complimentary consultation today to get started!