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Orthodontics/Braces for Children

What is orthodontics?

Orthodontics is the dental specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, prevention, and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite, and jaws. Orthodontists also have special training in facial problems and disorders of the jaw. Your dentist may refer your child to an orthodontist. The American Association of Orthodontists advises that every child have an orthodontic evaluation by 7 years of age.

Two girls laughing.

Why choose orthodontic treatment?

Any orthodontic problem may be classified as a malocclusion. This means "bad bite." The following problems may be helped or minimized with correct orthodontic treatment:

  • Misaligned, crooked, or crowded teeth

  • Missing teeth

  • Extra teeth

  • An overbite

  • An underbite

  • An open bite

  • Misaligned or incorrect jaw position

  • A disorder of the jaw joint

Correcting these problems can help create a nice smile. It can also prevent tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, speech issues, difficulty chewing, and jaw problems.

What age should my child get braces?

In most cases, the ideal age for braces and other orthodontic treatments is between 8 and 14 years of age. Moving and correcting the alignment of the teeth follows the same process regardless of age. But an adult mouth must overcome already-positioned facial bones and jaw structure. So overcoming most types of malocclusions may need more than one type of orthodontic treatment for adults and can sometimes include jaw surgery.

What are the different types of braces available?

Braces generally come in 4 varieties:

  • Brackets, metal or plastic, clear or tooth-colored, that are bonded to teeth

  • Lingual-type brackets that attach to the back of teeth, hidden from view

  • Bands that cover most of the teeth with metal bands that wrap around the teeth.

  • Invisible, clear aligners that can be removed from the mouth

The first 3 types use wires to move the teeth to the desired position. Clear, removable aligners don't use wires and may also be a choice. Aligners are custom-formed plastic guides that fit over the teeth and are used in a series to move the teeth into their desired positions. Ask your child's orthodontist if they are right for your child. Not all orthodontic problems can be treated with clear aligners.

Oral healthcare and braces

The following tips will help eliminate, or reduce, any oral health problems while your child's teeth are in braces:

  • Make certain that your child is brushing their teeth carefully at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Also have them brush after eating, as food becomes easily lodged in the braces. A new toothbrush may be needed every 3 to 4 months, or sooner if bristles are broken or frayed. A worn toothbrush doesn't do a good job of cleaning the teeth.

  • Make certain that your child is flossing daily between the teeth and the braces. A floss threader may be useful to carry the floss under the arch wire. 

  • A proxabrush may be a good tool to remove food or debris from between the teeth.

  • A dental water jet or oral irrigator can be used to remove food and debris from between the teeth, brackets, and wires.

  • Be sure your child has their teeth cleaned professionally every 6 months, or as often as advised by your dentist.

  • Limit your child's sugar and starch intake, as debris left behind from these types of foods may turn into damaging acids. These promote tooth decay and cause white spots around the braces.

  • Don't let your child eat hard or sticky snacks that may be hard to remove from the orthodontic equipment in their mouth. This includes hard foods, such as popcorn, pretzels, hard candy, nuts, and sticky foods, like chewing gum, caramel, and other chewy candy. Don't let them chew ice.

Ask your child's dentist about prescription fluoride toothpaste or the application of a fluoride varnish around the braces. This is done to minimize white spots on the teeth after the braces come off. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Kapner MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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