Your child’s health is your top priority. Good dental health plays a big role in your kid’s overall well-being. Poor oral health not only leads to gum disease and cavities, but it’s also linked to developmental and behavioural problems in children.
You want to do all you can to keep your child healthy and happy. But it can be difficult to know how much dental care your child needs and what role you play in the process.
While good oral hygiene is a life-long concern, prioritizing it early on will ensure your child is on the right track. You know a good oral care routine and regular dental visits are key to maintaining your child’s health, but do you know how important it is to see an orthodontist?
Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that deals with the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of irregularities in the teeth and jaws. Orthodontists provide preventive and comprehensive treatment to children and teenagers. When alignment or bite problems are detected and treated at a young age, you can prevent a world of problems later on.
Over four million people in Canada and the United States are in the care of an orthodontist
(Canadian Association of Orthodontists)
Only about 6% of all dentists are orthodontists
(American Association of Orthodontists)
Invisalign® products were used for 8% of the 3 million new orthodontic patients in North America in 2016
1. What is Orthodontics?
Orthodontics is a branch of specialized dentistry that deals with correcting malocclusions. The term “malocclusion” refers to when your top and bottom teeth don’t fit together properly. Orthodontics isn’t just about straightening teeth but also about achieving the proper bite.
“Orthodontic treatment doesn’t only improve the appearance of your child’s smile but also improves their overall health.”
Orthodontics became a dental specialty in 1900 when the first school of orthodontics was founded. Today, orthodontists help prevent, diagnose, and treat dental and facial irregularities.
Orthodontic treatment won’t only improve the appearance of your child’s smile but will also improve their overall health.
What’s The Difference Between An Orthodontist And A Dentist?
General dentists address common oral health problems like tooth decay, toothaches, gum disease, and more. They have bachelor’s degrees, then complete a four-year program at a dental school.
General dentists manage basic and complex oral health issues. They clean your teeth and ensure your oral health is on track. If you’re concerned about a cavity, you’ll see the dentist, and they’ll give you a filling if need be.
Orthodontists offer specialized services. While they also help you maintain your oral health, patients visit the orthodontist if they’re concerned about the alignment of their teeth.
Orthodontists undergo the same basic schooling as general dentists. After completing a dental program, however, they go on to a two- or three-year residency program. This is when they learn to specialize in orthodontics. They learn how to move teeth into proper alignment, guide facial development, and ensure healthy jaw growth.
What Patients Should Know About Orthodontics
When you invest time and resources in orthodontic treatment, good oral hygiene is key to ensuring your child gets the best results.
“Maintaining optimal dental care throughout the process will ensure your child’s teeth will look their best once they’ve completed treatment.”
To help your child get the most out of their orthodontic treatment, ensure they follow these dental care tips:
Brush your teeth after every meal and before bed
Floss at least once a day
Make the necessary dietary modifications
Visit your orthodontist for regular check-ups
Upholding good oral hygiene habits will help stop food and bacterial plaque from accumulating. It’ll help prevent decay, gum disease, and tooth discolouration.
Good dental care is especially important when your child is wearing orthodontic appliances since it can become more difficult to clean their teeth. Plus, they’ll have to regularly clean their equipment. Your child’s orthodontist will give precise oral hygiene and brushing instructions, and show them what techniques to use.
Chances are your child will also have to make some dietary modifications to prevent damage to orthodontic appliances. Your child can eat most foods normally while wearing braces but will have to avoid certain chewy, hard, and crunchy foods. Chewing gum, hard candy, and chips, for example, can cause orthodontic appliances to come loose. Your orthodontist will go over all the foods to avoid and help your child continue to eat the food they love by making modifications.
You’ll also want to continue bringing your child to their dentist during orthodontic treatment. Having your child’s teeth professionally cleaned will help remove plaque and tartar, and prevent decalcification.
Maintaining optimal dental care throughout the process will ensure your child’s teeth will look their best once they’ve completed treatment!
2. Why Does Your Child Need Orthodontic Treatment?
Orthodontic treatment will help your child achieve a straight smile. A straight, healthy smile will do wonders to boost your child’s self-confidence. But since your dental health is closely linked to your overall health, the benefits of straight teeth extend far beyond gaining a better smile.
Without treatment, malocclusions can cause difficulty in chewing and speaking, as well as muscle tension and pain. Crooked or overlapping teeth are also more difficult to clean, making your child more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.
“A straight, healthy smile will do wonders to boost your child’s self-confidence.”
Properly aligned teeth, on the other hand, are easier to clean and allow your child to maintain good oral hygiene.
Reasons for orthodontics
Kids need orthodontic treatment for a wide number of reasons. Orthodontics help treat many problems that are associated with misaligned teeth and bite patterns, including:
finger or thumb sucking
Specific to young children, these habits can cause tooth misalignment and improper jaw development. While thumb sucking is to be expected in early childhood, problems can arise if your child doesn’t give up this habit beyond three to four years of age.
Issues arising from finger or thumb sucking include protrusive upper front teeth, tipped-back lower front teeth, open bite, and crossbite. If you can’t get your child to stop this habit on your own, an orthodontist can help.
The type of treatment your child will require depends on the issue they developed from thumb sucking. Your orthodontist may suggest a removable retainer, or if the situation is more problematic, an appliance that’s cemented to the teeth. Your child might also need to use spacers or a plate to prevent further orthodontic issues. Early orthodontic treatment will help reduce crowding and other alignment issues later on.
An overbite is when the upper front teeth lie too far forward or stick out over the lower teeth. Overbites can be either dental or skeletal in nature, meaning either the teeth or jaws are causing it.
Treatment may include the removal of baby teeth, braces, a retainer, or a growth modification device.
An underbite is when the lower teeth are too far forward or the upper teeth are too far back. Misalignment of the lower jaw is generally what causes an underbite.
Orthodontic appliances or corrective jaw surgery can be used to treat the issue, depending on how severe the case is.
A crossbite is when the upper teeth don’t come down slightly over lower teeth when biting together normally. It can increase your child’s risk of other dental problems and affect their jaw, neck, and shoulders.
The best treatment option for a crossbite will depend on your child’s age and the cause and type of misalignment. Treatment can include braces or other orthodontic appliances, teeth extractions, dental restorations, or jaw surgery.
An open bite is when there’s space between the front and side teeth when the back teeth bite together. It’s common in younger patients and often caused by:
Thumb or finger sucking
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
Corrective treatment can include braces, headgear, or jaw surgery in severe cases.
If left untreated, overbite, underbite, crossbite, and open bite issues can result in:
Chronic jaw or joint (TMJ) pain
Discomfort or pain while eating
Teeth crowding is one of the most common orthodontic problems. Your child’s teeth can become crowded when there’s not enough space for all teeth to properly fit. This can occur due to irregular tooth size, jaw displacement, or dental trauma.
Crowded teeth make teeth cleaning more difficult, which can cause more plaque to develop. Your child’s risk of tooth decay and gum disease thus increases. They can also suffer from premature wear and jaw joint damage.
The ideal treatment for crowded teeth ranges and depends on the underlying cause. It can include braces, Invisalign®, or retainers. When crowded teeth are detected in early childhood, braces or a palate expander can hold back the molars until the rest of the baby teeth fall out.
Early treatment will reduce the need for major treatment later in life, ensure the durability and longevity of your child’s teeth, and increase your child’s self-confidence.
The opposite of crowding, teeth spacing is when the teeth are smaller than the available space. This results in gaps between your child’s teeth. Dental spacing is normal when your child still has their baby teeth. The problem will be more obvious when their permanent teeth come in.
Teeth spacing can be caused by missing or impacted teeth, protrusive teeth, or abnormal tissue attachments to the gums.
Besides a less pleasant smile, teeth spacing can result in gum problems and can prevent the teeth from functioning properly. The most common treatment option is braces, while removable appliances, veneers, crowns, and bridges can also be used.
TMJ is a fairly common joint issue. It refers to different conditions that impact the temporomandibular joint, facial nerves, and jaw muscles. Symptoms of TMJ include:
Pain or tenderness in the jaw
Pain around the ear
Pain while chewing, biting, or yawning
Popping or clicking of the jaw
Frequent headaches and neck aches
TMJ occurs when the lower jaw is out of its proper alignment. Little is known about what exactly causes this issue, but it’s often related to grinding or clenching the teeth. This puts pressure on the joints and causes facial muscles to tighten.
Common treatments include a splint or night guard, which holds teeth apart to prevent grinding. Braces can also be used to treat TMJ by correcting bite issues.
3. When Should Your Child First Visit The Orthodontist?
Think your child doesn’t need to see an orthodontist because they are not experiencing any problems?
Now’s actually the best time to make that appointment! The Canadian Association of Orthodontists recommends children first visit the orthodontist by seven years of age. By this time, their first permanent molars and incisors have usually come in.
“The orthodontist is trained to detect subtle issues in how your children’s permanent teeth are coming in and how their jaws are developing.”
This doesn’t mean your child will need braces. In most cases, orthodontic treatment won’t be needed so early. But if treatment is required, it’s best to know early on.
The transition from baby teeth to permanent teeth is an important time. The orthodontist is trained to detect subtle issues in how your children’s permanent teeth are coming in and how their jaws are developing.
Children generally get braces between the ages of eight and 14. By this time, their baby teeth are all gone and their permanent teeth are in place. Some kids who have undergone early treatment need to get braces again as teenagers to fine-tune the results, but the treatment time will be a lot shorter.
Remember that it’s also never too late to get an assessment or to begin orthodontic treatment! In fact, many parents are seeing the results from their kids’ orthodontic treatment and getting braces for themselves too. Almost 20 percent of people in braces today are adults!
What Should You Expect For Your Child’s First Visit?
Your child’s first visit to the orthodontist will be a new experience for both of you. When you know what to expect,you can help ease your child’s anxiety. You can also prepare some questions in advance to make the most of your visit.
“Orthodontic treatment will make your child’s teeth straighter and healthier in the long run.”
The first appointment usually lasts 30 to 60 minutes and can go one of three ways:
You learn your child’s teeth and bite are fine.
The orthodontist discovers a potential problem and decides to monitor it.
You discover there’s an issue that is best treated by early intervention.
Here’s what you can expect for your child’s first orthodontist visit:
Many orthodontists start your child’s first visit with introductions to all the staff and a tour of the office. While you may have already been to the office during a consultation, this will help you and your child feel more at ease. A good orthodontist will take extra care to make sure your child is comfortable.
The goal of the first visit is to determine whether orthodontic treatment is needed, and if so, where to begin. X-rays of your child’s teeth and mouth will be taken as part of the examination. This will let the orthodontist know if all the child’s teeth have come in and whether they’re properly positioned.
The orthodontist will then explain any orthodontic problems found and recommend what steps should be taken next to correct them.
After discussing any problems found, the orthodontist will then take impressions of your child’s teeth and describe any needed appliances. They’ll also give an estimate of how long the orthodontic treatment will take.
The orthodontist will give you an estimate of the treatment costs and discuss your insurance benefits, financing options, and payment plans. They’ll help you select the best option for your needs.
Schedule The Next Appointment
If you agree to the treatment plan, the orthodontist will schedule the next appointment to get the appliances placed. They’ll let you know how frequently appointments should be scheduled moving forward.
While the process might be stressful at first, orthodontic treatment will make your child’s teeth straighter and healthier in the long run.
4. How To Ensure Your Child Gets The Best Orthodontic Treatment
Some children are born with straight teeth, requiring zero intervention. But for the less fortunate, orthodontic treatment is often needed. If this is the case, how can you ensure your children get the best treatment possible?
Braces today are more comfortable than the ones you might have worn, but they can still be a scary idea for children and teenagers alike. Your children will no doubt experience frustrations, but you want to alleviate as much stress as you can and ensure the process is as smooth as possible.
Here are some ways you can play a proactive role in the process and ensure they get the best treatment possible.
Only an orthodontist can say with certainty whether your child requires braces. An orthodontist will use a combination of diagnostic tools, clinical exams, plaster models of teeth, and x-rays to determine whether your child needs treatment and what that treatment will involve.
You can, however, keep an eye out for possible problems and bring them to your dentist’s attention.
Signs To Look Out For
Early or late loss of baby teeth
Difficulty chewing or biting
Grinding or clenching teeth
Crowded or misplaced teeth
Jaw shifting or noises like popping
Teeth that meet abnormally (or not at all)
Jaw and teeth that seem out of proportion to the rest of the face
SEE A REGISTERED SPECIALIST
An orthodontist is a dentist who has undergone two to three years of additional post-doctoral training. Some dentists perform orthodontics but aren’t specialists, so be sure to do your research when scoping out clinics.
GET AN EARLY ASSESSMENT
Booking an orthodontist appointment early on will help improve your child’s dental and overall health. Early detection of problems allows for timely treatment. If your child gets the right treatment from a young age, they can avoid more extensive treatment down the line.
“Early detection of problems allows for timely treatment.”
Children have softer, more malleable bones so their jaws can more easily move or grow in an ideal shape. This means treatment will take less time. Early intervention helps prevent future issues, reduces your child’s risk of gum disease and tooth decay, and helps them avoid future surgery in certain cases.
The earlier your child begins treatment, the earlier they’ll achieve a straight smile!
When Are Braces Really Needed?
Think your child is too young to get braces? You’re wise to be cautious about agreeing to extensive treatment. But the right orthodontist will have your child’s best interests in mind and will have specific reasons for suggesting early treatment.
Sometimes, early orthodontic treatment will involve pinpointing current and potential problems, and identifying the best time to begin treatment when the mouth is mature. Orthodontists usually take an interceptive approach. This means they’ll use different orthodontic appliances rather than braces during the early stages. Plates, for example, are usually worn by young children to fix minor crowding or bite problems, or to close gaps.
What Does Treatment Involve?
After a thorough patient examination and medical history evaluation, the orthodontist will develop a treatment plan for your child. Treatment can involve:
Braces are the most common type of orthodontic treatment, but depending on your child’s bite problems, the orthodontist may suggest a combination of other treatments.
What Treatments Work Best?
The type of treatment that will work best for your child depends on the problems the orthodontist is trying to fix. Some children benefit from early orthodontic treatment like limited braces or oral appliances. Others don’t need early treatment and will benefit from traditional braces to align their teeth and correct bite issues.
For those who need minimal correction, Invisalign Teen is a great option. Your teens will love that the smooth, plastic aligners are nearly invisible—hardly anyone will know they’re wearing them! They can also remove the aligners to eat and clean their teeth.
For the best results, teens will need to be diligent in wearing them for 20 to 22 hours a day, leaving just enough time for eating, brushing, and flossing. Keep in mind that this treatment isn’t ideal for patients with complex issues like severe bite misalignment.
Talk to your child’s orthodontist to find the treatment that will deliver the best results. With the best treatment, your child will:
Avoid extractions of permanent teeth
Attain a balanced facial profile
Gain confidence with a beautiful, straight smile
Will Your Child Need To Wear A Retainer?
After your child gets their braces removed, they might have to wear a retainer to maintain the changes made to their teeth. A retainer is a custom-made device designed to keep teeth in place as your child’s teeth will naturally try to shift over time.There are two types of retainers: removable and fixed. Removable retainers are usually worn full time for at least a year after your child’s braces are removed. Your child can take them out to eat and brush their teeth. Fixed retainers are worn 24/7 for several years.Your child will be thrilled when their braces come off, but wearing a retainer may be necessary to maintain their new beautiful smile. The orthodontist will recommend how long your child needs to wear a retainer to maintain their ideal smile.Remember: Orthodontic treatment is a big responsibility. To ensure successful treatment, your child will need to follow strict rules like brushing and flossing every morning and night, and in between meals. There are also certain foods they can’t eat, including anything too crunchy or sticky. While the orthodontist will explain everything, take the time to support your child and ensure they’re following all the steps.
An orthodontist’s goal shouldn’t merely be to straighten teeth. Orthodontists will also consider the entire face and jaws in their treatment plan. They’ll address any muscular imbalances, joint problems, and headaches, and eliminate teeth grinding, swallowing issues, and speech problems.
“An orthodontist’s goal shouldn’t merely be to straighten teeth. Orthodontists will also consider the entire face and jaws in their treatment plan.”
Advancements in digital x-rays and the types of braces available—including Invisalign and clear braces—make for faster, more comfortable treatment. When visiting clinics, ask about the orthodontic technology they offer.
5. Who Can Help Your Child Achieve A Straight Smile?
For most of your child’s dental needs, you’ll see a pediatric dentist. A pediatric dentist will check your child’s teeth, talk to you and your child about oral health, and perform procedures like filling cavities, fluoride treatment, root canals, and more.
If, however, your child needs help with their bite or teeth alignment, you’ll need to bring them to an orthodontist. These specialists have both the experience and knowledge to help your child achieve a straight smile and maintain optimal dental health.
A healthy smile can have an incredible impact on your child’s life. The benefits include:
Your smile is often the first thing someone notices about you. A beautiful smile goes a long way to increasing your child’s self-esteem. Especially as your kids become teenagers, they’ll likely be self-conscious if they have crooked teeth. They might be less likely to speak up in group settings and they may hide their expressions to avoid showing their teeth.
“A beautiful smile goes a long way to increasing your child’s self-esteem.”
Especially during the critical early years of development, such negative feelings can shape your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Keep your child smiling by bringing them to an orthodontist at a young age. When they’re proud of their smile, they won’t suffer from these same anxieties.
AVOID FUTURE HEALTH PROBLEMS
Seeing an orthodontist is about more than improving the appearance of your child’s teeth. If your child doesn’t have straight teeth and a proper bite, it can be more difficult to brush and floss. Plaque—the accumulation of food and bacteria—can lead to gum disease, which can lead to other serious health problems if left untreated.
Ensure your child keeps their mouth healthy to avoid a host of problems down the road and to improve their overall health. If you help them manage dental hygiene from a young age, your child will be better equipped to protect their teeth for life.
Preventing dental problems is far more cost-effective than treating them. Neglecting your child’s dental health will likely cost you in the long run. It’s a lot cheaper to maintain good oral hygiene than to treat complex problems.
“Preventing dental problems is far more cost-effective than treating them.”
REDUCE DENTAL ANXIETY
The fewer dental problems your child experiences, the less anxious they’ll be to visit the orthodontist. It’s better to make an appointment and find out your child doesn’t need orthodontic treatment than to assume their teeth are fine when there’s an underlying problem.
One Practice For All Your Dental Needs
When looking for an orthodontist, one of the best options is to find a practice that offers pediatric dentists and orthodontic specialists in one place. Here’s why:
MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER
When your child’s dentist and orthodontist work in the same practice, your life becomes a lot easier. Especially if you have more than one child, you can schedule dentist and orthodontist appointments for everyone at a convenient time, all in one place.
AVOID THE SEARCH FOR AN ORTHODONTIST
Find a practice with both pediatric dentists and orthodontists so your child can continue going to the same place well into the future. Your child will become comfortable with the practice from a young age with regular dental appointments. And if they do need braces in the future, you won’t have to switch to a different practice to see an orthodontist!
When your orthodontist is in the same practice as your pediatric dentist, you can rest assured knowing the office environment will be kid-friendly. Going to the orthodontist can be intimidating to children. Especially when they don’t know what to expect, it can be a stressful experience. When they’re already familiar with the office, however, your child will be a lot more relaxed during their first orthodontist appointment.
6. How To Find The Right Orthodontist For Your Child
Finding the right orthodontist is a big factor in ensuring your child gets the best treatment. You want to find a specialist you trust and who your kid is comfortable with. After all, this will be the beginning of a long relationship—your child will have regular orthodontist appointments for several months or years.
How can you find the right orthodontist? Find out what questions to ask when considering different clinics, and learn about the services you should expect from an orthodontist.
Don’t Wait Until Your Child Needs Braces Or Invisalign
You want your child to have healthy, beautiful teeth and be confident in their smile as they grow up. That’s exactly why you shouldn’t wait until it’s obvious your kid needs braces to see an orthodontist.
“When the orthodontist sees your child from a young age, they can prevent or reduce the need for more invasive treatment in the future.”
It’s best to be proactive and start evaluating treatment options before treatment is needed. When the orthodontist sees your child from a young age, they can prevent or reduce the need for more invasive treatment in the future. The best-case scenario is you find out your child’s teeth development is on the right track. The orthodontist will then continue to monitor their oral development without any intervention or cost.
If treatment is needed, the orthodontist will be able to catch potentially severe problems early on. Early evaluations make any future treatments easier and shorter, saving you time and money in the long run. Also, it has been proven by scientific studies that early orthodontic treatment can reduce the chance of trauma to prominent front teeth, the need for jaw surgery, and the need for pulling out permanent teeth to create space.
“It’s best to be proactive and start evaluating treatment options before treatment is needed.”
Ask For Recommendations
Ask your child’s pediatrician for an orthodontist recommendation. Remember—your child is not alone in their need for orthodontic care. Some of their friends likely already have braces, as many children need to see an orthodontist to achieve healthy, properly aligned teeth. Ask other parents what orthodontist they see, and check if your neighbours, coworkers, and friends have any recommendations.
Visit The Clinic
Visit the orthodontist office in person to determine whether it’s the right choice for you and your child. Most practices would be happy to give you a tour and explain the services they offer in person during a consultation.
Here are some important factors to consider when visiting clinics:
Everyone from the receptionist to the orthodontist should be friendly and approachable. This contributes to a warm atmosphere that will make future appointments as stress-free as possible for your child. Consider the overall ambiance at the office. If you feel even slightly uncomfortable, your child is likely feeling that way too.
“Rather than just being professional, an orthodontist’s office should be fun and inviting.”
Is the office appropriately set up for children, teenagers, and young adults? The traditional dental office environment doesn’t work so well for kids. Rather than just being professional, an orthodontist’s office should be fun and inviting. Books, toys, games, and kid-sized furniture should be set up in the waiting room. If they’ve got the right stuff, your child might even be excited about future appointments. Plus, they’ll feel more at ease with other children around.
Is the office conveniently located? Once you choose an orthodontist, you’ll be visiting that office for years to come. Especially if your child will have regular appointments, you’ll want to choose a location that’s close to your work, home, or your kid’s school. The more convenient it is, the easier the whole experience will be.
Is the office equipped with the latest technology? Consider what treatment options they have available. Your teenager might be skeptical about traditional braces, for example, but they might be more open to Invisalign—a convenient and flexible way to straighten teeth.
DOCTOR QUALIFICATIONS AND CERTIFICATIONS
Consider the orthodontist’s level of experience and years in practice. Your child’s orthodontist should have the appropriate certifications from accredited institutions and an active licence to practice.
“Children don’t always make the best patients, but good orthodontists know how to examine and treat children in ways that make them feel safe and calm.”
Children don’t always make the best patients, but good orthodontists know how to examine and treat children in ways that make them feel safe and calm. The right orthodontist will be patient with your child and make every visit educational and fun.
Tip: Most orthodontists have before-and-after photos in their clinics—check these out to get a better sense of their work.
Questions To Ask Before Getting Started:
DO YOU OFFER EMERGENCY CARE?
You can never be overly prepared when it comes to your kids. How does the orthodontics office handle emergencies? You can’t control when emergencies occur, so ask about their after-hours availability.
DO YOU ACCEPT MY DENTAL INSURANCE?
If you have a dental plan, check to see if you need to choose your orthodontist from a list of participating clinics. Find out if you need to pay after each visit or whether the orthodontist will file a claim with your insurance company and bill you the balance.
WHAT FINANCING OPTIONS DO YOU OFFER?
The cost of your child’s orthodontic treatment will depend on their needs and treatment plan. But you’ll want to learn about the available financing options so you can budget in advance. Find out if the office offers direct billing and no-interest options, which will make your life easier.
WHAT KIND OF CARE CAN YOU EXPECT?
During your child’s first appointment, the orthodontist should perform an oral exam and assess your child’s tooth development. The orthodontist will let you know if your child currently requires or will eventually need orthodontics to straighten their teeth or correct an improper bite.
The orthodontist will also give you tips and strategies to deal with any problematic dental habits your child has. It’s important that they educate you and your child on proper dental care at home in a way that’s easy for your child to understand. If your child does need treatment, the orthodontist will teach you both how to care for the appliances.
Visiting the orthodontist, whether or not treatment is needed, shouldn’t be a stressful event. A good orthodontist will walk you through every step and answer every question you and your child have along the way.