The Basics of Braces
When faced with a crooked smile, here's what you can expect.
Some kids can’t wait to get their braces, seeing them as a sign that adolescence and adulthood can’t be far behind. Others are a little worried about what they’ll be like or how they’ll look. However your child feels, you probably have some questions and concerns of your own (not the least of which may be how you’re going to pay for them!). Here’s the lowdown.
Why Kids Need Braces
Kids can need braces for any number of reasons, including crooked, overlapping, or overcrowded teeth, or a “bad bite” (known as malocclusion), which is a discrepancy in the sizes of the top and bottom jaws. When the upper jaw is bigger than the lower jaw, it’s called an overbite. When the lower jaw is bigger, it’s called an underbite.
Sometimes tooth and jaw problems can be caused by tooth decay, losing baby teeth too soon, accidents, or habits like thumb sucking. But often they’re inherited, so if you or someone in your family needed braces, it’s likely that your kids will, too.
Often, your child’s dentist will be the first to notice problems during a regular visit and recommend that you see an orthodontist (a dentist who specializes in correcting jaw and/or teeth alignment problems). The orthodontist can determine whether your child does indeed need braces and which types of devices would be best.
There’s no set age for a child’s first orthodontist visit—some kids go when they’re 6, some when they’re 10, and some while they’re teens. Even adults receive orthodontic treatment. Many orthodontists say kids should see an orthodontist once their permanent teeth start coming in, around age 7. Issues such as uneven bite and overcrowding will become apparent.
Starting the process early doesn’t mean a child will get braces right away. It just means the orthodontist will be able to determine which problems exist and assess the best time to start treatment.
The First Orthodontist Visit
The orthodontist will thoroughly examine your child’s teeth, mouth, and jaw. He may ask your child to bite his teeth together and will also ask whether your child has problems chewing or swallowing, or has ever had clicking or popping of the jaw.
The orthodontist may take X-rays of the mouth and teeth to see how the teeth are positioned and whether any permanent teeth still need to come in. She may also make a mold (or impression) of your child’s teeth by pressing a tray of gooey material into the top and bottom teeth. When the mold is removed and the material hardens, the result is a replica of your child’s teeth that will allow the orthodontist to decide which treatment options are best.
Type of Braces
Braces ultimately correct alignment problems by putting steady pressure on the teeth, which eventually moves them into a straighter position.
Most kids just need braces with wires and rubber bands. The wires help to move the teeth, and the rubber bands (which come in fun colors) help to correct alignment. Though metal braces are still used, so are clear or white ceramic braces, which are much less noticeable. Some even go behind the teeth (lingual braces).
Once the braces are on, your child will have to visit the orthodontist every few weeks for monitoring and adjustments.
How long your child will need to wear braces depends on the problems the orthodontist is trying to fix, but the average is about 2 years. After that, your child might wear a specially-molded retainer, a small, hard piece of plastic with metal wires or a thin piece of plastic shaped like a mouthguard. Retainers keep the teeth from wandering back to their original places.
© 1995- 2013. The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Reprinted with permission. Access the complete text here.
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