Orthodontics and kids: What you need to know about braces

There's no one schedule for wearing braces that works for all kids. Here's what Canadian orthodontists want parents to know.

By Adrienne Brown

Orthodontics and kids: What you need to know about braces
©iStockphoto.com/Shaw Studios
If you've ever had braces, you probably remember the discomfort of a tender mouth and worrying about getting food stuck in your teeth. While you may have loathed photo day at school, you now have beautifully straight teeth and likely realize that your braces or other orthodontic appliances were worth it.

Or maybe you didn't have braces and you thanked your lucky stars at the time, but now your kids need them (or already have them) and you don't understand why they're such a big deal. After all, tons of kids have braces, right?

Every situation is different and parents don't always understand how their children are feeling -- and, in some cases, young patients don't always pass on information or tips from their orthodontists to their parents.

To set the record straight, here's what real Canadian orthodontists want parents to know about children and braces.

There are different ages and stages for orthodontics
There is no cut-and-dry schedule for when your child might need braces or for how long they'll have to stay on.

"Although, generally, we want all of the permanent teeth to be present before treatment starts, there are special cases where interceptive treatment at a younger age can prevent surgery later on," says Sarah Davidson, an orthodontist with Stuart and Davidson Orthodontics in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. "For this reason it is important to have your child screened at an early age."

Michael O'Toole and Kent Floreani, two orthodontists from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, agree that children should have their first visit to an orthodontist around age seven. They may not need any adjustments at this point, but it's a good age to familiarize your kids with the orthodontist and to make sure that they do not have any early issues, such as extra teeth. Waiting too long to see an orthodontist can close the window of opportunity, say O'Toole and Floreani, and the longer you wait, the more work it can take to resolve an issue.

"No orthodontist wants the braces to stay on longer than they need to, contrary to what kids may think!" says Helene Grubisa, first vice-president of the Canadian Association of Orthodontists and an orthodontist in Oakville, Ont. Staying on top of appliances, including using those pesky little rubber bands when necessary, and maintaining a regular appointment schedule is important to proper progress.

It's also important to remember that not all teeth move at the same speed. Biologically, all patients are different, says Grubisa, so not everyone's teeth will take the same amount of time to adjust.

"Orthodontics is all about the right treatment at the right time," say O'Toole and Foreani. After a patient's first visit, they like to see kids at regular intervals of about 12 to 18 months to monitor changes and provide treatment as problems may develop or arise. Most kids who need braces will get them around age 12.

Checkups matter
If your child gets a retainer, braces or other orthodontic device, he or she will likely have to visit the orthodontist about every six to eight weeks for adjustments. It's important to keep on top of appointments as "missed appointments will prolong treatment time and may also have negative effects on the result if patients don't come for a very long time," says Grubisa.

Make sure your kids clean their braces
If your child isn't cleaning his or her teeth and braces properly and regularly, cavities can start to form around the braces, which may leave ugly (and permanent) white, yellow or brown marks on the surface of the teeth after the braces come off, says Grubisa.

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