Time for Braces?


Going to the orthodontist to get braces is a milestone in many children’s lives. And more and more they are having braces put on their teeth before they reach double digits, especially for small mouths and incorrect bites. Most often, general dentists refer kids to an orthodontic specialist, but some don’t, so orthodontists advise parents to schedule a free consultation around age 7.

Here are the answers to parents’ frequently asked questions.

When should treatment begin?

Malocclusions —a misalignment of the teeth and/or an incorrect bite — often become noticeable between ages 6 and 12, as children’s permanent (adult) teeth erupt. Orthodontic treatment often begins between ages 8 and 14. Treatment that begins while children are growing helps produce optimal results. As a result, children should have an orthodontic evaluation no later than age 7. By then, they have a mix of primary (baby) teeth and their permanent (adult) teeth.

Regular dental examinations are important when children are young, because dentists can spot problems with emerging teeth and jaw growth early on, while the primary teeth are present.

What are braces made from?

Braces (also called orthodontic appliances) can be as inconspicuous — or as noticeable — as you like. Brackets (the part of the braces that attaches to each tooth) are smaller and can sometimes be attached to the back of the tooth, making the brackets less noticeable.

Brackets may be made of metal, ceramic, plastic or a combination of materials. Some brackets are clear or tooth-colored. There are brackets shaped like hearts and footballs, and elastics (orthodontic rubber bands) in school colors or holiday hues, such as green and red. And there are gold-plated braces and glow-in-the-dark retainers.

Do teeth with braces need special care?

Yes. Patients with braces must be careful to avoid hard, sticky, chewy and crunchy foods, or hard objects, such as pens, pencils or fingernails. Keeping the teeth and braces clean requires more precision and time, and must be done every day if the teeth and gums are to remain healthy during and after orthodontic treatment. Clean, healthy teeth are corrected more quickly.

Can my child play an instrument or participate in sports while wearing braces?

Braces typically do not interfere with playing wind or brass instruments, although more practice may be needed to adapt. Children can play sports, but wearing a protective mouth guard is important. A protective mouth guard is recommended for sports and other activities that may result in injury to the mouth or jaw.

Can I afford orthodontic treatment for my child?

Most orthodontists have a variety of convenient payment plans. Many dental insurance plans also include orthodontic benefits.

— Sources: American Dental Association (www.ada.org) and American Association of Orthodontists (www.braces.org)