We all want our kids to have beautiful straight teeth, but how do parents know when to intervene or when to let nature take its course? We asked Dr Firas Hamzeh, specialist orthodontist at the Dental Studio, to give us his expert opinion
Is there a right or a wrong age to get braces?
That depends on the problem you are trying to correct. If a child has a skeletal problem, it is better to get this corrected as early as possible, even if the patient seems too young at the time. Most of the time braces are not needed until the patient is between ten and 12 years of age, as this is when a lot of the growing takes place or when all of their baby teeth have fallen out. If there are no severe discrepancies, patients can wait until 12 years old. There is no age limit on braces and many adults receive successful treatment.
So should parents hold off booking to see an orthodontist until all the baby teeth are gone?
There are a couple of schools of thought on the issue of timing orthodontic treatment. Some orthodontists do not believe in performing any kind of treatment until all the baby teeth have been lost. Most, however, follow the American Association of Orthodontists’ recommendation that all children should be screened at age seven. While not all problems can be fixed at this age, the severity of many issues can be reduced and the self-esteem of the young patient improved dramatically. Early care is one of the most rewarding treatment options that we offer to patients. Intercepting problems before they get out of hand, manipulating growth, creating space and preventing trauma averts tooth extractions or major jaw surgery in later life.
How can parents spot the signs of potential problems ahead?
Get a paediatric dentist or orthodontist to examine your child. Most initial overcrowding problems manifest themselves around seven years of age when the first permanent teeth are erupting. Keep up regular check ups with your dentist who may refer you to the orthodontist if needed. If you feel there is something wrong with your child’s teeth do not hesitate to contact a professional.
How would parents know if their child is a candidate for early treatment?
By consulting a professional specialising in early orthodontics. The child may be a candidate if parents notice crowded or misaligned teeth, an over or under bite or excessive mouth breathing.
If a child sucks their thumb, are they more likely to get braces when they are older?
Bad habits are known to affect the growth of the jaws and the arch forms at the roof of the mouth. Unfortunately, thumb sucking is one of the worst habits that may affect the teeth and jaws, especially
if the habit persists into late childhood. The teeth are more likely to protrude, and sometimes the full upper jaw will come forward, the bottom teeth may be brought backwards and this will create an over-bite. In this case we would recommend immediate intervention to stop this habit and correct the problem before it gets worse.
What types of braces are available?
In Orthodontics we generally speak about fixed or removable appliances. In fixed braces we have metal, cosmetic (clear) braces, invisible or lingual braces that are fitted behind the teeth. The orthodontist will propose different options and give advice on the best one to choose depending on the individual.
So we all know braces straighten teeth but is that the only reason to get them fitted?
Getting braces fitted not only straightens teeth but also corrects the bite and any malocclusion (the misalignment of teeth in relation to the dental arches). There must be symmetry between the upper and lower teeth as this affects the aesthetics of the entire face such as the lips and the smile line. A patient could have perfectly straight teeth but the bite may be wrong. In this case the bite must be corrected.
What function does a ‘retainer’ serve, compared to fixed braces?
Retainers are custom-made appliances given to the patient after fixed braces are removed to keep the teeth in the new moved position. Teeth have a tendency to want to return to their original position, and so retainers help keep the results achieved at the end of treatment. Orthodontists have different philosophies regarding the retention stage. The best results are when retainers are fixed for a lifetime, but removable ones are usually worn for two or three years at night.