They say that 7 is the age of reason for children. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s also the age when the American Association of Orthodontists recommends your child’s teeth be evaluated for braces. But whether your child actually needs braces may be a completely different story. And if they need to get them at an early age, will they be up to the challenge of taking care of them properly?
First, there is no magic age when a child should start braces, cautions Dr. Gregory Kubik, an orthodontist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital with offices in Crystal Lake, Ill. “The better question is: When is the best time to evaluate a child for orthodontic treatment?”
“Early evaluation allows me to determine if intervention is needed now,” he says. But the best time to see the orthodontist is whenever a parent or dentist becomes concerned that a child may have an orthodontic problem.
Most orthodontic treatment occurs after most or all of a child’s adult teeth have developed. But some children need treatment before this happens, Dr. Kubik says, and he offers these warning signs:
- When it appears a child may require corrective jaw surgery later in life
- When a dentist notices a potentially dangerous bite problem
- When orthodontics would give a child a psychological lift
- When braces now can lessen or eliminate the need for corrective treatment in the future
In consultation with their doctors, parents should weigh the risks and benefits of treating a child, along with the risks of doing nothing. Dr. Kubik says the risks to your child should be minimal, and the benefits significant, before you decide to go forward with early treatment.
Little patients are good patients
Some parents worry that a young child may not be able to handle the responsibilities of braces and their money will be wasted. Dr. Kubik says not to worry.
“Many of my best patients are second- and third-graders,” he says. “They follow directions and are motivated to please their parents and their doctor. They get excited by seeing the positive changes to their teeth and are just plain fun to treat.”
Teenagers can be a little tougher, he admits. They have more demands on their time, and greater distractions, and they can be more interested in pleasing their peers than their parents or doctor. But, he says, most teens do very well with the responsibilities that come with braces.
The key is to explain to any patient—child, adolescent or adult—what’s expected of them, and win their commitment. Dr. Kubik tells his patients that before he can even begin a diagnosis and treatment plan, they must be brushing at least twice a day. They must also agree to brushing effectively three times daily once they’re wearing braces.
He also warns them of the dangers of certain types of drinks. “We reinforce that they should avoid acidic beverages — such as soda pop, juice boxes, energy drinks and most canned drinks — during treatment to minimize the formation of white spots adjacent to their braces,” he says.
When children are accurately diagnosed, and you explain that they will be doing most of the work, “they perform wonderfully.”