Braces may be generally associated with teenagers, but orthodontic treatment can help people across a wide age spectrum to straighten their teeth and correct bite problems.
Your child's dentist may recommend an early orthodontic assessment if they spot signs of an existing condition or if they think problems may be likely to develop in the future. They will then be able to determine whether treatment is needed now or later.
Read this overview of orthodontic treatments for kids and teenagers to get an idea of what you and your child could expect.
When should kids have their first orthodontic check-up?
Orthodontic issues may be noticeable from a young age, but dentists and orthodontics will generally recommend an assessment by the time some of your child's permanent teeth have started to come through. This could be anywhere between 6 and 10 years, depending on the individual case.
By this time, possible concerns such as crooked or crowded teeth or misaligned jaws should already be evident, and your child's dentist can decide whether or not early intervention would be beneficial to prevent the need for more extensive correction later.
Dentists will continue to monitor for orthodontic issues during your child's regular check-ups and they may recommend further orthodontic assessments as your child grows.
What are the benefits of early orthodontic intervention?
Not all children require early intervention, but orthodontics for children (also called orthopaedics) can help to address issues early or can lay the foundations for future treatment by making space in the jaws for teeth to come through.
As children's teeth and jaws are softer and still developing, early orthodontic treatment can take less time and have more predictable outcomes than orthodontics for teenagers or adults, with a lower chance of relapse.
These treatments may sometimes be all that's needed to address a problem early, preventing unnecessary suffering and possible complications that could be involved when delaying treatment until later – such as oral health problems, teeth grinding or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.
In most cases, children will still need to wear braces or other appliances in the future, but these treatments may be faster and simpler following early intervention. This can also mean less hassle for teenagers and savings for their parents on future orthodontic costs.
What are signs that orthodontic treatment may be needed?
Children may benefit from braces or other orthodontic treatments for a number of reasons, including crooked, crowded or protruding ('buck') teeth, an overlapping bite (malocclusion) or wide gaps between their teeth.
These issues may not always be obvious to an untrained eye, which is why regular dental visits and early orthodontic assessments are important. An experienced dentist will be able to identify developing problems before they become more serious.
Possible signs that your child may have an orthodontic issue could include:
- their top and bottom teeth don't touch together evenly
- their front teeth stick out
- some of their teeth turn inwards or are pushed forwards or backwards
- their jaw shifts to the side when they open and close their mouth
- they have difficulties with eating or speech
- they breathe through their mouths or snore regularly
Children may be at higher risk of developing an orthodontic problem if:
- they lose a baby tooth early (before the age of 5), which can affect the surrounding teeth
- their teeth are injured
- they still suck their thumb or fingers by the time their permanent teeth come through, which can push teeth out of alignment
- other people in your family have had orthodontic issues
What will happen during my child's orthodontic assessment?
An orthodontic assessment is more thorough than a standard dental examination, as it also involves examining the jaw, facial bones and developing adult teeth inside the jaw.
During your child's assessment, their dentist may:
- examine their teeth for signs of orthodontic issues
- check how their teeth fit together
- take x-rays of their mouth and jaws
- take impressions of their teeth for analysis
- ask you or your child about any problems or bad habits that may be relevant
They will then analyse these findings to determine how your child's teeth and jaws are likely to develop as they continue to grow and whether any orthodontic treatments would be beneficial now or in the future.
Your dentist can also give you advice about stopping any bad habits you child might have, such as thumb sucking, tongue thrusting or mouth breathing, to prevent future problems these might cause.
What is the best age for braces?
If your child's dentist recommends a treatment after their early orthodontic assessment, this will usually involve functional or growth appliances designed to make space in the jaw for the rest of their adult teeth to come through.
Partial braces or full braces may sometimes be recommended between the ages of 8 and 10 to correct certain issues, such as protruding or twisted teeth.
Brace treatments normally begin between the ages of 10 and 13, depending on the individual. By this time, most of a child's permanent teeth have come through, but their jaws are still growing and easier to move than in the later teen years.
For more complex conditions, such as a protruding lower jaw or prominent gaps, dentists may recommend waiting until ages 13 to 15.
Types of braces
If your child's dentist finds that they could benefit from orthodontic treatment, they will discuss all the options with you and give you all the information you need to make a fully informed decision. These options might include:
Braces are the most common orthodontic treatment for older children and teenagers. They comprise a series of brackets that are bonded to the teeth and attached with wires and bands. The wires exert slight pressure on the teeth that forces them to shift position over the course of the treatment.
Modern metal braces are lighter and more compact than those of the past. Your dentist might also offer alternatives such as tooth-coloured ceramic braces or lingual braces fixed to the back of the teeth if a more discreet treatment is desired, though these may not be suitable for every patient's needs.
Removable aligners such as Invisalign® can be a discreet and convenient alternative to braces for correcting most orthodontic issues. However, aligners may not be suitable for more complex cases and they require more compliance from patients than fixed braces.
Invisalign was initially developed for adults and older teenagers, but Invisalign Teen is now an option for eligible younger patients. These aligners accommodate the growth of new teeth and feature coloured wear indicators to encourage compliance.
If your child is beginning early orthodontic treatment, their dentist may recommend a number of different appliances, depending on their needs. These could include:
- Expansion appliances to widen the jaws and create more space for teeth
- Space maintainers to prepare for adult teeth and prevent teeth from shifting
- Removable plates to guide the growth of teeth and jaws
- Partial braces to help straighten one or more misaligned teeth prior to full braces
- Headgear if additional force is needed to move teeth
Whether your child has braces or another treatment, they will normally have to wear a retainer as the final phase after their original treatment has been completed. A retainer holds their teeth or jaws in their new position and prevents them from shifting back.
What to expect with braces
Kids and parents naturally have lots of questions about what will happen after braces are fitted. Here are some things you might need to know.
How long does orthodontics take?
There is no set time for orthodontic treatment, as it depends on the individual case. The average time for braces is 1 to 2 years, but treatments may be shorter if a child has early intervention.
How often do I need to see the dentist?
Your child will need to attend regular appointments every few weeks or every month so their dentist can check their progress and adjust their braces or appliance. Some treatments such as Invisalign may involve less frequent check-ups.
Do braces hurt?
Braces can feel uncomfortable at first, as your child's teeth need to adjust to the pressure and their appliance may rub against their lips or cheeks. This will normally subside within a few days to a week. Pain can be relieved with normal over-the-counter medication, applying dental wax or home remedies.
Free orthodontic consultation with our Gold Coast dentists
If you want to know whether you or your child could benefit from braces or another orthodontic treatment, we are offering a complimentary consultation valued at $297 at Robina Town Dental.
We welcome patients from all nearby suburbs including Burleigh Heads, Burleigh Waters, Clear Island Waters, Mermaid Waters, Merrimac, Miami, Mudgeeraba, Varsity Lakes and Worongary.
Healthdirect. Dental braces and retainers [Online] 2020 [Accessed April 2022] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-braces-and-retainers
Healthdirect. Orthodontic treatments [Online] 2021 [Accessed April 2022] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/orthodontic-treatments