You might think you don’t have to worry about orthodontic issues until your child hits a double-digit age, but that’s not necessarily so. “The American Board of Orthodontics recommends that children be evaluated at age 7,” says Alex Cassinelli, DMD, MS, of Cincinnati Orthodontics. He explains that early evaluations are designed to find and treat what he calls “errors in skeletal growth,” such as a severe underbite or overbite that may not be treated by braces alone. “Treating at that age allows for maximum effect, and may eliminate the need for later surgery,” he says.
An early visit also allows orthodontists to evaluate a child’s incoming permanent teeth. Cassinelli explains that in cases of severe over-crowing, an income tooth may potentially damage the other permanent teeth surrounding it. Detecting growth patterns early helps an orthodontist create room for permanent teeth and guide those teeth into desirable positions. Your doctor may rely on devices like space maintainers, used when baby molar teeth fall out to hold a space for the permanent tooth, palatal expanders to widen the upper jaw, and the Herbst Appliance(R) to reduce overbite during your child’s treatment. Pulling baby teeth is also an option for over-crowding, and orthodontists are even able to recognize and help correct bad habits, like thumb-sucking.
Where to Start?
Finding the right orthodontist for your children can feel like a tricky task. Cassinelli advises parents to talk to other parents and listen to others’ experiences, or even look online for reviews. Another good choice is to visit the American Board of Orthodontics web site to search for board certified orthodontists. This is the highest level of certification and is offered through a voluntary process that includes written exams and peer evaluations. A board-certified orthodontist is also required to undergo re-certification, meaning they have to keep up on the latest advancements in orthodontia.
Caring for Braces
Although there are plenty of options these days for orthodontic treatments, including Invisalign(R), Cassinelli says that traditional braces are able to address the most problems. Once the braces are installed, children and parents are educated on proper care such as brushing, flossing, mouth guards for sports, and what foods to avoid. Patients can expect to wear braces for an average of two years, but it will depend on each child and his individual treatment needs, and they should stick to their regular six-month check-ups.
For the Duration
The big day arrives, and the braces come off! But that’s not the end of the road. Your child will likely need to wear a retainer full-time for about six months, according to Cassinelli, then transition into night-time wear. He may have to wear a retainer for several years after the braces come off, or even longer. “Retainer wear is a life-long commitment,” he says. “Otherwise teeth will continue to move.”
So, what’s the take-away? Get evaluated early, find the orthodontist that fits your family’s needs, and make sure you and your child both play an active role in his orthodontic care. Cassinelli says the goal at his office is to offer “a lifetime of a healthy, functioning smile,” but it can’t be done without you!