As a pediatric dentist a question I am commonly asked by parents is, “when should my child get braces?” Parents see children of all ages in different types of orthodontic appliances and begin to wonder if their child should be starting treatment as well. This is a question that can only be answered if we look at the dental issues concerning each individual child. For each child who will benefit from orthodontic treatment there is an ideal time for that treatment to begin but that time is specific to the child’s orthodontic concerns.
As early as the child’s first dental visit the pediatric dentist is starting to examine the child’s occlusion or bite and give the parents an idea of their child’s future orthodontic needs. At a very early age we can begin to look for discrepancies between the growth of the upper and lower jaws, or if the teeth are in cross-bite, crowded or malpositioned. Some children will benefit from preventative orthodontic treatment even before all of their permanent teeth have erupted. In some cases this care can be started as early as 4 or 5 years of age. A growth discrepancy between the upper and lower jaws, known as an under-bite or over-bite, oftentimes will benefit from treatment which is initiated while the child is still growing in an attempt to modify the growth into a more favorable relationship. Some children will be referred to an orthodontist around the age of 7 or 8 years old when they have a mixture of both baby teeth and permanent teeth. The goals of treatment at this time may be to guide jaw growth, correct oral habits, lower the risk of trauma due to severely protruded front teeth, guide permanent teeth into the proper position, create space for the remaining permanent teeth to erupt into, align teeth to make home care easier, or to improve self-esteem. Other children are able to wait until around age 12 when all of their permanent teeth have erupted before orthodontic treatment is initiated.
When timed properly, orthodontic treatment and a child’s growth can complement each other quite nicely. In certain situations, early orthodontic treatment can prevent more extensive or complicated treatment later. Although it will be the decision of the orthodontist and the parent as to when a child’s orthodontic treatment will begin, as the primary dental care provider, your pediatric dentist will be monitoring your child’s growth and development and making recommendations as to when an orthodontic consultation should take place.