Children can need braces for any number of reasons, including crooked, overlapping, or overcrowded teeth, or a ‘bad bite’ – known as malocclusion. Malocclusion is a discrepancy 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 an underbite.
Sometimes tooth and jaw problems can be caused by tooth decay, 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 dentist at Keppel Dentistry will be the first to notice problems during a regular visit and recommend that you see our orthodontist (a dentist who specialises in correcting jaw and teeth alignment problems). The orthodontist can determine whether your child needs braces and which types of devices would be best.
There’s no set age for a child’s first orthodontist visit — some children go when they’re six, some kids go when they’re 10, and some go while they’re teens. Even adults can receive orthodontic treatment. At Keppel Dentistry we believe children should see an orthodontist once their permanent teeth start coming in, around age seven. At this age, issues such as uneven bite and overcrowding will become apparent and may be easier to treat than in later years.
Starting the process early doesn’t mean a child will get braces right away. It just means the orthodontist will be able to determine which problems exist and assess the best time to start treatment.
At the first visit, our orthodontist will thoroughly examine your child’s teeth, mouth, and jaw. They may ask your child to bite the teeth together and will also ask questions about whether your child has problems chewing or swallowing, or has ever had clicking or popping of the jaw.
We 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 mould of your child’s teeth by pressing a tray of soft material into the top and bottom teeth. When the mould 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.
Braces correct alignment problems by putting steady pressure on the teeth, which eventually moves them into a straighter position.
Most children require braces with wires and rubber bands. The wires help to move the teeth, and the rubber bands (which come in fun colours) help to correct alignment. Though metal braces are still used, so are clear or white ceramic braces, which are much less noticeable. Some even go behind the teeth (lingual braces).
In recent years, clear removable braces that move teeth with plastic trays called aligners (rather than wires and rubber bands) have become available, but these are usually only for people without bite problems.
Some children may need other devices too, such as headgear, which is usually worn only at night. Headgear uses a horseshoe-shaped wire that attaches to the back teeth, pushing them back and allowing more room for teeth in the front of the mouth. The orthodontist at Keppel Dentistry might also 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 our orthodontist is trying to fix, but the average is about two years. After that, your child might wear a specially-moulded retainer; a small, hard piece of plastic with metal wires, or a thin piece of plastic shaped like a mouth guard. Retainers keep the teeth from wandering back to their original places.