Is your child too young for braces? Top expert answers your fears
Is your child too young for braces? Orthodontist Dr. Sylvia Tan addresses common fears and misconceptions parents have about braces...
As an orthodontist, I love talking to parents about children’s teeth and one of the most common questions I get is, "Is my child is too young for braces?".
Often parents tell me that they have spotted something not quite right about the little child’s teeth but are reluctant to bring him to an orthodontist because he is too young and still has his baby teeth.
These are misconceptions about orthodontic treatment that are rather common amongst parents. In fact there is no such thing as a minimum age required to start braces. Orthodontic treatment is indicated on a case by case basis depending on the condition and compliance of the child.
The common conditions that most parents are able to spot in their children are protruding teeth, crooked teeth and an under bite.
Even if your child has straight teeth, an orthodontic check-up may reveal subtle problems with jaw growth and erupting adult teeth.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends a check-up with an orthodontic specialist no later than the age of 7 years. Please do not be alarmed.
The majority of the time, the orthodontist will reveal that your child’s teeth and bite are fine. Even if a problem is detected early on, they may recommend monitoring the child’s growth and development before intervening. In a few cases, orthodontic treatment may be indicated at the appropriate time.
What to look out for?
There is a long list of problems that can and/or should be corrected earlier on. If you notice that your child has difficulty biting or chewing, have lost their baby tooth earlier or much later or if he or she has speech impediments, it is worth obtaining an orthodontic consult.
Other problems such as mouth breathing, sucking their thumbs after five years old or shifting of the jaw during opening or closing of their mouths may need to be examined too.
Early treatment, also known as interceptive orthodontics is important for certain teeth conditions. Although not common, early treatment can be used to intercept and prevent a serious problem from developing.
In some cases it may even make treatment at a later age shorter and less complicated. A few benefits of interceptive orthodontics are encouraging jaw growth to the correct proportions, preventing worsening of protruding teeth and avoiding damage to the gums and teeth due to incorrect bite.
Too young for braces
Early braces treatment is akin to early childhood education.
Why do we start early childhood education even before a child can read or write but wait until all baby teeth are lost before we consider orthodontic treatment?
There is no such thing as a minimum age for braces. In fact it is determined on a case to case basis. If you have a gut feeling that something may not be right about your child’s teeth, then do consult a specialist.
I saw Megan* who turned eight a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, Megan had a swimming pool incident and chipped her two front teeth.
After seeing the emergency dentist, he advised for Megan to consult an orthodontist to prevent this from happening again. Megan has been a habitual thumb-sucker and her parents have tried everything to stop this habit including using finger gloves, reward charts, bitter nail polish and as a last resort, bribery! Nothing seems to work.
Prolonged thumb-sucking will not only cause teeth to protrude, but also cause narrowing of the upper jaw and improper bite.
Some parents are unaware that front teeth that are sticking out are twice as likely to get traumatised during minor accidents. Megan was provided with a removable brace which worked as a habit breaker as well as improving her protruding front teeth.
Do note that there are many variants of habit breakers and it is dependent on patient compliance and on a case by case situation.
The most important part of interceptive orthodontics is to prevent damage to teeth and gums. One good example is a tooth in crossbite.
If a lone-standing tooth is in crossbite, it may cause damage to the gum support for that tooth and the adjacent teeth. If this condition is not detected early on, gum damage may have already occurred and it might be too late.
Such cases can be treated fairly easily using braces within three months.
It has been reported that a pleasing smile will improve confidence and in turn, improve the quality of life for an individual. This matter is true not only for adults, but for growing teens and even so, young children.
Children in primary schools start to feel conscious about their ever-changing physical self and hence may feel shy about their smiles.
I have had some children who are subjected to teasing and even bullying over their ‘buck’ teeth. What surprises me most is that when their ‘buck’ teeth is corrected, the confidence of the child sky rockets and it is one of the most job-satisfying part of my career.
Better to be early than sorry
Over time, I have seen many cases who present at my clinic a little too late, and hence more complicated or prolonged orthodontic treatment needs to be warranted.
In this day and age, seeing the general dentist every six months is not sufficient. Please remember to schedule an orthodontic check-up for your child by the age of 7 years old.
With the advances in dental technology, we are able to monitor and prevent certain types of complications occurring during the stage of erupting teeth. This in turn, will hopefully encourage a shorter and less complicated orthodontic treatment later in life.
As my mother always say, it is better to be early than sorry!
*name has been changed to protect patient confidentiality.