There are a number of questions that are frequently asked specifically about orthodontics for children and in this article we set out to answer them as simply and clearly as possible…
When should my child first see an orthodontist?
We recommend that all children have an initial inspection, by a qualified orthodontist, at the age of seven. Many people mistakenly believe that the work of an orthodontist cannot begin until a child’s adult teeth are present. In fact, to give your child the best prospect of a beautiful smile, this simply isn’t the case. By age seven, while some baby teeth are still in place, orthodontists can identify any potential problems with jaw growth and emerging second teeth.
There is however, no specific age when children may require orthodontics and you should discuss your child’s teeth with their dentist on a regular basis. Frequent monitoring of the child’s growth and development helps avoid major treatment later, and ensures that any necessary work will be recommended at the appropriate time. The treatment plan will depend on the individual child’s needs. Some children, for example those with cleft palates, receive orthodontic treatment before their first teeth have erupted. For most children, a first inspection at the age of seven will be followed by treatment, where required, usually starting between the ages of nine and fourteen.
How can I tell if my child needs early orthodontic treatment?
Your child’s dentist should advise you when your child needs to see an orthodontist. Here are some common signs that a visit might be required:
- Problems with biting where the teeth do not come together evenly or the mouth cannot close completely
- Shifting of the jaw when your child opens or closes his or her mouth
- Crowded front teeth
- Protruding teeth where the top teeth and the bottom teeth extend away from each other
- Early loss of baby teeth – children should typically start losing teeth around age five
- Difficulty chewing and/or biting
- Breathing only through the mouth and not the nose
- Thumb sucking after age five
- Speech impediments
For how long will my child need to wear braces?
Typically most children wear braces for between 18 months and 36 months. However, the length of treatment will vary depending on your child’s requirements and also on how well he or she co-operates with the treatment. Another factor is the individual child’s rate of growth over the treatment period.
Wearing braces is followed by wearing a retainer, which brings us onto the next common question…
For how long does my child need to wear a retainer?
Many orthodontists recommend that children should continue to wear retainers “forever” even as adults, for maybe one or two nights a week. Teeth can continue to change position throughout your adult life and retainers help to keep them beautifully straight. In practice, most children are expected to wear retainers on a regular basis for one or two years after their braces have been removed.
Does a child’s diet have to change because of braces?
The answer is almost certainly yes! There are a number of foods that should be avoided when wearing braces in order to avoid broken wires and brackets causing pain and potentially prolonging treatment. Children should be told “if you eat these foods you will have to wear braces for a longer time!”
- Generally it is best to completely rule out anything hard, chewy or sticky. Examples of food not to eat include:
- Toffee and caramel
- Chocolate bars with sticky centres
- Boiled sweets
- Wine gums, gummy bears and other chewy sweets
- Chewing gum
There are also some items that should be eaten carefully:
- Chewy bread and cakes such as bagels and doughnuts – tear into small pieces
- Crisps – eat them carefully and one at a time
- Corn on the cob – eat off the cob, don’t chew on it!
- Apples and carrots – cut into small pieces
Finally, don’t chew on any hard items such as ice, the ends of pens and pencils, or fingernails.