Some kids can't wait to get their braces, seeing them as a sign that their teen
years can't be far behind. Others, though, worry about what they'll feel or look like.
However your child feels, you probably have some questions and concerns of your
own about braces (including how you're going to pay for them!). Here's the lowdown
on kids and braces.
Why Kids Need Braces
Kids can need braces for any number of reasons, including crooked, overlapping,
or overcrowded teeth, or a "bad bite" (known as malocclusion). Malocclusion is when
there's a difference in the sizes of the top and bottom jaws. When the upper jaw is
bigger than the lower jaw, it's called an overbite. When the lower
jaw is bigger, it's called an underbite.
Sometimes tooth and jaw problems can be caused by losing baby teeth too soon, accidents,
or habits like thumb sucking. But often they're inherited, so if you or someone in
your family needed braces, it's likely that your kids will, too.
Often, your child's dentist will be the first to notice problems during a regular
visit and recommend that you see an orthodontist (a dentist who specializes in correcting
jaw and/or teeth alignment problems). The orthodontist can decide whether your child
does indeed need braces and which devices would be best.
There's no set age for a child's first orthodontist visit — some kids go
when they're 6, some kids go when they're 10, and some go while they're teens. Even
adults can need orthodontic treatment. Many orthodontists say kids should see an orthodontist
once their permanent teeth start coming in, around age 7. At this age, issues such
as uneven bite and overcrowding will become apparent.
Starting the process early doesn't mean a child will get braces right away. It
just means the orthodontist will be able to find problems and decide the best time
to start treatment.
The First Orthodontist Visit
At the first visit, the orthodontist will thoroughly examine your child's teeth,
mouth, and jaw. He or she may ask your child to bite the teeth together and may also
ask questions about whether your child has problems chewing or swallowing, or has
ever had clicking or popping of the jaw.
The orthodontist may take X-rays of the mouth and teeth to see how the teeth are
positioned and whether any permanent teeth still need to come in. He or she also may
make a mold (or impression) of your child's teeth by pressing a tray of gooey material
into the top and bottom teeth. When the mold is removed and the material hardens,
the result is a replica of your child's teeth that will allow the orthodontist to
decide which treatment options are best.
Type of Braces
Braces correct alignment problems by putting steady pressure on the teeth, which
eventually moves them into a straighter position.
Most kids just need braces with brackets, wires, and rubber bands. The brackets
attach to the teeth and are connected by a wire and rubber bands. The wire is tightened
bit by bit over time to slowly help line the teeth up properly. The rubber bands come
in fun colors that kids can pick. Though metal braces are still used, so are clear
or white ceramic braces, which are much less noticeable. Some even go behind the teeth
Clear removable braces that move teeth with plastic trays called aligners (rather
than wires and rubber bands) are also available, but these are only right for some
Some kids may need other devices, too, such as headgear (don't worry — this
is usually worn only at night!). Headgear uses a horseshoe-shaped wire that attaches
to the back teeth, providing stronger force to move the teeth. The orthodontist also
might recommend that your child have one or more teeth removed to create more space
in his or her mouth.
Once the braces are on, your child will have to visit the orthodontist every few
weeks for monitoring and adjustments.
How long your child will need to wear braces depends on the problems the orthodontist
is trying to fix, but the average is about 2 years. After that, your child might wear
a specially molded retainer — a small, hard piece of plastic with metal wires
or a thin piece of plastic shaped like a mouthguard. Retainers keep the teeth from
wandering back to their original places.
Caring for Braces
Because it's so easy for food to get stuck in wired braces, kids who wear them
need to work extra hard to keep their teeth clean. Brushing after meals is essential,
as is daily flossing (the orthodontist can give your child a special flosser to use
in and around braces). Regular dental cleanings and checkups to look for cavities
are also a must.
Your child should avoid certain foods (such as popcorn, hard and sticky candy,
and gum) because they can damage braces. Sugary sodas and juices can be a problem,
too, because they can contribute to tooth decay. Kids with clear plastic aligners
should always remove them when it's time to eat.
Because braces put pressure on the teeth, they can feel uncomfortable once in a
while, especially after the orthodontist makes adjustments. Taking over-the-counter
pain relievers and eating soft foods can help if this happens.
See the orthodontist right away if your child has a loose wire or bracket, or a
wire that is poking his or her mouth. If the orthodontist can't find a problem, your
child might use some soft orthodontic wax to cover any sharp spots on the braces that
are bothersome or rubbing against the inside of the mouth or gums.
Braces create nice smiles, but that's not all they do. Good orthodontic care contributes
greatly to oral health. Straight, aligned teeth can make it easier to chew food, and
can even help prevent snoring.
But these benefits don't come cheap. Braces cost about $5,000 and even if your
family has insurance, it may not cover much of the bill. Fortunately, there are ways
to get braces at a reduced cost:
Smiles Change Lives. This program serves kids and teens between
the ages of 10 and 18 in all 50 states. If you apply and are accepted, your child
will receive braces for only about $600. To be eligible, your family can't earn more
than a certain amount based on where you live and how many people are in your family.
In addition to the income requirements, your child's teeth must be well cared for.
For more information or to apply, visit the Smiles Change Lives website.
Dental schools. After completing dental school, dentists who
want to specialize in orthodontics must continue their training in specialized programs.
At these dental schools, kids can often get braces at a reduced rate. These schools
are especially interested in complicated cases. The orthodontists-in-training will
be supervised by more experienced orthodontists during the treatment. One thing to
remember is that the treatment may take longer to complete than it would in an established
orthodontist's office. Appointments also may need to be scheduled during school hours.
Search online for a list of dental schools to find one near you.
Your dentist and dental societies. Some general dentists will
do braces and may be willing to work with your family on the cost. Your dentist is
also a great person to ask about orthodontists in the area who might accept lower
payments. Again, being a good brusher and flosser will make your child a better candidate.
In addition to your dentist, you can also request information from your state's dental
Your community. Ask around your community (your place of worship,
local clubs, and school organizations) to see if any orthodontists are also members
or if anyone knows of a dentist who might take your child's case.
Insurance programs in your state. State insurance programs, such
as Medicaid, may cover braces, especially if the condition of your child's teeth interferes
with talking, eating, or swallowing. Not all states make this easy. There's a lot
of paperwork required and you might have trouble finding a dentist who works with
the insurance program. But it's worth checking. Some states have taken steps to make
this process easier for kids and parents.
It's worth the effort and patience it takes to find an orthodontist who will treat
your child. Straight teeth are more than just attractive — they can help keep
your child's mouth healthy for a lifetime.