Everyone loves a beautiful, healthy smile, and with orthodontic technology continually improving, it’s becoming easier and quicker for children to get their pearly whites in top form.
The American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) recommends children see an orthodontist at age 7 for a consultation. Most children will not receive orthodontic treatment at this age, but will benefit from having their dental development monitored.
For those children who do need dental assistance at a younger age, Dr. Ken Lawrence, who maintains a private practice in Mentor and is director of the Orofacial Pain Clinic with the Cleveland Clinic, says he takes a two-phase approach: Phase I typically involves a palate expander and “some” braces, while Phase II is generally a full set of braces, usually around age 12.
However, the vast majority of patients will only need one phase of treatment, Lawrence says.
Advances in technology mean braces are now “self-ligating,” meaning they use small metal clips and eliminate the need for the rubber “o-rings” or stainless steel ligature wires. For younger patients who do need both phases, the first phase may still involve traditional braces — but choices for kids have made these more fashionable. Patients can choose from colored elastics that tie the brackets in place. Even the brackets themselves come in different shapes and themes: stars, hearts and footballs, to name a few.
Other types of braces include ceramic and “Invisalign.” However, according to Lawrence, neither technique is generally recommended for children. Ceramic braces are more delicate and better suited for adults.
“Invisalign can’t do major bite changes and tooth movement,” he says. “I stopped doing the Invisalign technique years ago because the results were not great.”
Although the traditional “silver standard” remains the most popular form of braces, the amount of time a child has to wear them has lessened over the years.
“When I started practicing orthodontics, the typical amount of time to wear braces was two to three years,” Lawrence says.“Now, wearing braces one-and-a-half to two years is typical, and sometimes, even less. The wire technology and the braces have gotten smaller, there’s less friction and the braces are more comfortable.”
While youngsters typically want to know how long braces will be on their teeth, parents want to know the cost. Prices vary, but for a patient wearing braces for a year-and-a-half with an expander, Lawrence estimates the cost to be approximately $5,000.
“Braces are much more affordable now,” he says.“The price for braces in the 1960s was over $3,000, which was the price of a new car. Braces aren’t much more now, and you certainly can’t get a new car for $5,000.” Plus, various payment plans are available.
In the Beginning
Long before a child ever sees an orthodontist, though, they encounter visits to the dentist. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children see a dentist for the first time within six months of getting their first tooth, which is typically at age 1.
According to pediatric dentist Dr. Jack Gerstenmaier in Fairlawn, visiting the dentist at 18 months to 2 years for the first time is more realistic. “The earlier we see kids, the better, because prevention is a wonderful thing,” he says.
Gerstenmaier wants children to learn proper brushing techniques early on and the effects that diet can have on the teeth.
“It’s not always what kids are eating, but how often they are eating it,” he says. “If they tend to eat bits throughout the day, the mouth never really has a chance to cleanse itself.”
Since tooth decay remains one of the most common childhood diseases, brushing teeth is essential. “You can do a wonderful job with a manual toothbrush,” Gerstenmaier says. “Studies show electric toothbrushes may be a little better at removing plaque and debris, but they are all effective, as long as they are used correctly.”
Once children have teeth that touch each other, flossing becomes necessary — and it’s easier than ever. Kid-friendly floss sticks are available and are even fruit flavored and easy to hold, taking the difficulty out of learning to use dental floss.
Nowadays, sealants are used on six- and 12-year molars to form a protective shield over the enamel of the teeth. “We see a huge decrease in children developing cavities on the biting surface of molars,” Gerstenmaier says.
If cavities do occur, fillings and crowns are quite a bit different than they used to be. Materials are more durable and made to match tooth color.
Still, the best advice is to take children to the dentist at an early age.
“The number one rule is to take young children to the dentist to foster a positive relationship and to establish good dietary habits,” Gerstenmaier said.