Braces and orthodontics are mainly associated with teens or adults looking to correct teeth and jaw misalignment for personal and professional reasons. But, for many individuals the best time to seek orthodontic treatment isn't in adolescence or adulthood, but in childhood.
Early childhood orthodontic treatment allows patients to circumvent tooth misalignments before they develop, or at least lessen the severity of developing misalignments.
According to dentists' studies, the optimal age for an initial orthodontic evaluation is seven years. This is the general age where the first molars and incisors surface, which allows orthodontists to determine if there will be misalignments.
Between the ages of seven and eleven, the jaw and mouth are still growing and forming. This gives orthodontists an edge, as at this point the treatment will actually be preventative interception, rather than alteration of established misalignments.
Benefits Of Orthodontics for Children
Childhood orthodontics, or interceptive orthodontics, can be less invasive and even less painful than treatment for older age groups.
Often, when orthodontists work on more mature patients, correcting problems such as overbites, underbites, crossbites, and crowding requires tooth extraction, in order to provide room for adjustments.
In treating a child, however, the jaw and teeth aren't yet in fixed positions. This allows orthodontists to proactively mold the teeth and jaw into optimal positioning without pulling teeth.
According to studies, when treating children, orthodontists will often use a palatal expander to widen the upper dental arch. This treatment provides the space needed for adult teeth to emerge in an aesthetically and functionally sound position, without the trauma of pulling teeth.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) states that while interceptive orthodontics provides space for adult teeth to properly emerge, the teeth and jaw may still develop misalignments.
Braces or Invisalign?
The "braces versus Invisalign for children" debate is well documented on various dental websites and other information sources. Ultimately, the "best" treatment choice depends on the individual patient, and this is even more true when it comes to children.
Most dentists believe that when choosing the right treatment, the decision should start with knowing the character of the child in question. There are several options out there, from traditional braces to invisible braces like Invisalign, but the success of any of these options by and large depends on the child's comfort levels and sense of responsibility.
For instance, Invisalign are removable trays that are designed to be worn at all times, except during meals. These require high levels of personal responsibility, as they are easy to lose or break.
Also, if the child can't handle the discomfort of adjustments, he or she may be tempted to take out the trays, which prolongs treatment and affects the final results of treatment.
Overall, a child would have to have an unusually high level of personal responsibility for Invisalign treatment to be a success.
Braces, on the other hand, are a series of metal brackets and wires that fasten directly to the teeth. Braces gradually move teeth with a series of adjustments made by orthodontists. These benefit child patients as they can't be removed, but on the downside, some children find them embarrassing.
In some cases, letting kids choose the colours of the bands on their braces can help the situation seem a little more fun. But other kids just feel uncomfortable wearing braces. Parents need to recognize this, and work with their children just as much as their orthodontist.
There are options, thankfully, and kids and parents can both walk away with the right equipment and the right mindset going into treatment.
Eating habits and hygiene are other areas to consider. Some hard foods and candy can damage orthodontic equipment, and without diligent cleaning, braces and Invisalign can build up bacteria, which will create problems such as cavities and plaque buildup.
Treatment time for interceptive orthodontics varies per patient, depending on the amount and type of care needed. Generally, braces and Invisalign take approximately the same amount of time to correct misalignments, with Invisalign being slightly faster (provided they are used properly).
Parents who think their children might need orthodontics treatment should consult with an orthodontist as soon as they think there might be a problem. Even if you're not sure, an orthodontist can determine if orthodontics is needed, and when the best age for treatment would be.