Too soon for braces? Why you should wait until the time is right

By Jeffrey Bailey, D.M.D.

Too soon for braces? Why you should wait until the time is rightAt some point in nearly every child’s life, the question of braces arises. For many kids, braces are a sign of adolescence, a rite of passage into adulthood. As kids approach this important milestone, they often become anxious (and insistent) that it’s time for braces.

Parents too can become antsy around the subject of braces. We want our children to have beautiful, healthy smiles and the sooner, the better! But there are two schools of thoughts on the timing of braces.

One approach is to tackle orthodontia in two stages. This means starting very early, sometimes as young as the age of 6 or 7. The thought is that children’s bones are more malleable at this age, and beginning intervention now will make future correction easier and quicker.

The more traditional approach, and the one I follow, is to start orthodontia when the child is ready. By “ready,” I mean most of the adult teeth have come in and jaw growth and development are nearly complete. The timing of this varies from child to child. Some kids reach this point as young as 10; others aren’t there until age 14. Further, it has been my professional experience that some of the problems early intervention is designed to correct resolve on their own, given time. This approach provides perfectly fine results with less expense (and hassle) for the parents.

That’s not to suggest one should ignore dental issues until age 11. Indeed, I recommend parents bring very young children with them to their own dentist appointments and start the child’s trips to the dentist within six months to a year after their first teeth erupt. These first appointments are pretty simple and easy, but they help kids establish trust and good dental habits early.

It’s also an opportunity for parents and dentist to talk about the child’s dental development, begin the conversation about orthodontia, and address any developmental concerns. If we see something serious starting to develop, we can take steps to address it.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children see an orthodontist at age 7. For some, this will be their only orthodontia visit. For others, a recommendation of watchful waiting may be given. In any case, this appointment isn’t likely to result in braces, but it can help to determine the course of future treatment.

Watch out for “bad bites”
As your child matures from infant to toddler, from toddler to child, and pre-adolescent to teen, there will be a lot of changes along the way. I recommend parents watch for – and talk to the child’s dentist about – what are commonly called bad bites. Or, as we know them in dental speak, malocclusions. Malocclusions come in many forms, but here are some of the most common:

• Crossbite of the front teeth: The front teeth on top are behind the bottom teeth when the mouth is closed.
• Crossbite of back teeth: The rear teeth on top are behind the bottom teeth when the mouth is closed.
• Crowding: Teeth are turned or crooked because there isn’t enough room in the jaw to accommodate all of the teeth.
• Open bite: The front teeth (top and bottom) don’t fit together when the back teeth are closed.
• Protrusion: The top front teeth stick out.
• Deep bite: The top front teeth completely cover the bottom front teeth and may even cover part of the gum.
• Underbite: The lower teeth sit in front of the upper teeth when the back teeth are closed.
• Spacing: There are large gaps between teeth, especially common for the front top teeth.

Other issues to be aware of that may indicate potential dental problems include late or early loss of baby teeth; problems with chewing or biting; mouth breathing; jaws that move, shift or click; speech difficulties; biting the inside of the mouth (roof, cheeks); and grinding or clenching of the teeth. If your child experiences any of these, be sure to mention it to their dentist at the next visit.

A dentist with an emphasis on orthodontia, Dr. Bailey has been improving smiles for the people of West Liberty and surrounding areas since 1993. He holds a doctorate of medical dentistry from the University of Louisville. Dr. Bailey’s office is located at 629 Main St., West Liberty. New patients are welcome. Please call (606) 743-3200 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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