In decades past, braces were most common during the high school years. Today, many teens have completed their orthodontic treatment before they even enter high school.
"When most people think of braces, they think of teenagers, but many children today tend to get braces at an earlier age," says orthodontist Craig Crawford, DDS, with Crawford Orthodontics. "While orthodontics can improve a smile at any age, there is an optimal time period to begin treatment, and in many cases this time period is when a child is in their pre-teens."
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children have an orthodontic evaluation no later than age seven. Dr. Crawford says that by this age, most children have a good mix of baby and adult teeth, which will enable the orthodontist to make a good assessment. "By no means are we saying that most children need to get braces at this early age. Braces are not usually recommended until most of a child's adult teeth have erupted. This initial exam will allow us to spot any potential problems that may exist, even if your child's teeth appear straight. Many orthodontic problems are easier and less complicated to correct earlier, rather than later. For example, we can direct extractions of baby teeth which may allow adult teeth to come in straighter, possibly preventing the need for braces altogether. As a child gets older, we can schedule regular examinations to monitor growth and development as needed, and begin any needed treatment at the appropriate time."
Dr. Crawford explains that there are some situations in which young children do require orthodontic treatment. This is referred to as interceptive orthodontics, and typically involves interventions that begin before a child starts first grade. "At this age, tooth development and jaw growth have not been completed, so certain conditions are easier to address." He says that interceptive treatment can be used to:
- Create room for crowded, erupting teeth
- Create facial symmetry through influencing jaw growth
- Reduce the risk of trauma to protruding front teeth
- Preserve space for un-erupted permanent teeth
- Reduce the need for future permanent tooth removal
- Reduce treatment time with braces
"Children who undergo interceptive orthodontics may still need braces, retainers or other orthodontic appliances later on," Dr. Crawford adds, "but these interventions can help us reduce the severity of the child's problem, possibly avoid extracting permanent teeth in the future, guide better tooth alignment and jaw growth, and possibly reduce the amount of time a child will require full, fixed braces."
To make braces more acceptable to young people, manufacturers have worked to make the process more fun, with brightly colored alastics, the tiny rubber bands that hold the wires to the braces. "Kids can choose alastics that match their school uniforms, team colors, a holiday color scheme, or just about any combination they like," says Dr. Crawford. "This helps keep the kids excited about the treatment. Its' a lot of fun"
The good news is that as more and more children get braces, school-yard nicknames such as "tin grin," "brace face" and "metal mouth" are heard less often. Because treatment has become more common, kids with braces don't stand out as much and embarrassment is less of a concern than it was in the past. And with earlier treatment, older teens can not only have a great smile, but also one less thing to worry about in their high school years.