Santa Cruz Smiles

How Young Is too Young for Braces?


Orthodontists have been helping straighten teeth for over 100 years. Not only can they help produce a healthy smile but address myriad dental health issues as well. These include everything from excessive cavities and oral infections to misaligned bites.

If your child has dental issues, you are probably thinking about an orthodontic consultation about braces. Since children get braces at all ages, it can be difficult to know when is the best time to make the move.

The short answer is that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. When (and if) a child gets braces depends on the severity of the problem. Fortunately, there are a few factors to consider that will help you decide whether to schedule an orthodontic consultation.

The information below will help you better make this important decision. Staying on top of your child’s orthodontic care will give you the peace of mind that they are healthy and that you are helping avoid major problems in the future.

What Do Braces Do?

Braces work by adding steady pressure to the teeth to move them into the desired position. Beyond that basic definition, there is little commonality in the types of braces used in orthodontics.

Most braces use wires, brackets, and rubber bands to adjust the teeth. White ceramic and clear braces are becoming more popular, especially when it comes to kids’ braces. These are custom-made to be less noticeable than metal braces.

Some versions of clear braces are removable. These “aligners” can be as effective as metal braces, but give kids the opportunity to remove them when eating or playing sports. Unfortunately, they are not suitable for correcting all orthodontic problems.

Some kids’ and teen braces can be positioned behind the teeth to make them less noticeable. These “lingual” braces are usually more expensive than regular braces. They also can present cleaning challenges, which may outweigh the aesthetic benefits they afford.

Orthodontists still use headgear to correct more severe problems. The good news is that these are almost always worn at night.

The type of braces your child needs will depend on the problem that is being addressed. Braces can fix everything from crooked teeth to malocclusion, or a misaligned bite.

Signs Your Child Needs to See an Orthodontist

Kids and adolescents need braces for several different reasons. One of the most common is crooked or overcrowded teeth. By age 7 or 8, if your child has crowded teeth (especially in the front), it may be time to visit an orthodontist.

If your child has lost “baby” teeth very early on or they have difficulty chewing or biting food, seeing an orthodontist is a good idea. This can cause problems with permanent teeth that are coming in.

Other signs that your child may need braces are poor sleep (including snoring), mouth breathing, and slumped posture.  If your child has excessive finger or thumb sucking for years beyond infancy, this could be a sign of orthodontic issues.

Many times, teeth problems are an indication that the jaw is not forming properly. Jaw popping when opening or closing is another serious sign that orthodontic attention is needed.

What Is the Typical Treatment Timeline?

Comprehensive kids orthodontic care usually starts whenever someone has lost all their primary teeth and when all permanent teeth have started to grow in. This could be anywhere between 8 and 14 years of age. But that does not mean you should wait until this happens to seek treatment.

Like other forms of medicine, when it comes to orthodontic care, earlier intervention is better. One of the big incentives for starting earlier is that you can address issues as your child grows.

This means making minor adjustments in treatment versus major, invasive procedures. Many orthodontics are turning to this “interceptive” approach, where they gradually correct teeth as they come in.

Such methods could even help reduce the amount of time braces are worn during adolescent years or even prevent the need for them altogether. Early treatment can also help correct speech issues and prevent the need for teeth extraction later in life.

An Evaluation Will Not Hurt

At the initial visit, the orthodontist will examine your child’s teeth, as well as their mouth and jaw. They will ask you and your child questions about any issues with chewing or swallowing.

They will likely take a mold of your child’s mouth, which will give them a permanent model of teeth positioning and jaw alignment. They may take X-rays to get a better sense of bone structure and the positioning of permanent teeth.

If you have concerns about potential teeth problems, six or seven years old is not too young to schedule an evaluation. Having a conversation does not mean your child will immediately get braces. It does, however, allow you and your doctor to determine the best timeline based on treatments and your child’s personal life.

Should I Find a Kids Orthodontist?

Unlike dentists, most orthodontic patients are children or adolescents. That has shifted somewhat in recent years, as more adults are seeking corrective dental treatment. But the bottom line is that most orthodontists have experience treating children.

However, that does not mean that they are all good at it. The best thing you can do is find an orthodontist who understands the impact braces can have on a child’s everyday life. While dental health and a straight smile are important, find a doctor who cares about every aspect of a child’s health.

Find an Orthodontist Near You

Now that you have an idea of when you should start considering orthodontic treatment––and what to expect during initial visits––you can decide what is the best course of action for your child. Remember that, besides braces, there are many treatment options available. Getting an evaluation lets you know what these are so that you can determine the best course of action for your child.

At Santa Cruz Smiles, we have decades of orthodontic experience. We pride ourselves on being a “whole family” practice that can help you decide when is the best time to begin orthodontic care for your child. Reach out to us today to schedule a consultation and have the peace of mind that your child’s smile and dental care are in the right hands.

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