Braces and Orthodontics
For children, straightening smiles or correcting misaligned teeth can require special treatment. Orthodontics can correct crooked teeth or bad bites (known as malocclusions), and there are a variety of treatments available to improve dental alignment in children. These treatments can effectively support the healthy structural development of teeth throughout childhood and adolescence.
What is Orthodontic Treatment?
Orthodontics can help improve alignment and straighten teeth for children of many ages, from the very young to those in adolescence. While there are many types of orthodontic treatments available, all of them function essentially by placing pressure on teeth and jaws to encourage proper alignment.
When Can Orthodontic Treatment Occur?
While some children can receive orthodontic treatment in early childhood (before the age of 6 years old), treatment commonly takes place between 6 and 12 years of age. The American Academy of Orthodontics recommends orthodontic screening before age 7 to ensure effective treatment for all children.
Interceptive orthodontics, or early treatment before 7 years of age, can be very effective in minimizing or eliminating the need for complicated orthodontics later down the line. For young children, their growing bones are easily influenced by orthodontics, and alignment can be simpler, more effective, and less painful than treatments in later childhood or adolescence.
What Kinds of Treatments Are Available?
There are a variety of orthodontic treatments to address bad bites and crooked teeth. For children whose permanent teeth have not all come in, an expander is a tool to encourage correct growth and expansion of the upper dental arch. An expander can help support the correct spacing of permanent teeth and minimize the need for orthodontics later on.
Braces are a very common form of orthodontics. Made of stainless steel, plastic, or combinations of materials, braces are more comfortable and inconspicuous than ever. Sometimes, clear plastic "trays" can be used instead of braces to straighten teeth. Involving children in their care in fun ways like letting them choose the color of the elastics on their braces can help to inspire enthusiasm for caring for their teeth. Although lightweight wires and flexible materials help to lessen discomfort from braces, soreness may still occur, especially after adjustments or tightening. This pain is typically minimal, however, and usually treatable with over-the-counter NSAIDS like ibuprofen.
Once braces are removed, teeth are commonly held in place for a period of time with a retainer. As children's teeth can still move easily, a retainer prevents the teeth from sliding back to their original positions after the removal of braces. Accompanying braces, other orthodontic tools like nighttime headgears or rubber bands may also help effectively straighten teeth and improve malocclusions.
All these treatments require some special home care instructions which a pediatric dentist and their staff will review. In all cases, dental hygiene is critical, so brushing twice each day and flossing daily can help not only keep teeth clean and protected, but also support the cleanliness of any orthodontic devices in the mouth. Food can become caught or stuck in the wires of braces, for example, which requires a more thorough brushing and flossing routine. Rinsing with water or dentist-recommended mouthwashes can also help to loosen debris and keep braces clean.
Orthodontic treatment is an important method of straightening smiles and providing healthy bites for children from early childhood through adolescence. Obtaining an orthodontic assessment before a child's seventh birthday, as well as maintaining regular follow-up and following all home care instructions during treatment, can help them achieve proper oral development, straight teeth, and a healthy smile.