If you’re a parent doing research for your child, know this: teeth move at any age! That being said, there’s an ideal window of time when braces can work faster and better – so why not take advantage of it?
The best age for braces is around 11 to 13 years old, but age is not always the best indicator. Your child should meet certain criteria such as the eruption of all permanent teeth. Sometimes, an early type of treatment is needed – it’s called phase one and works best between 7 to 11 years of age.
But the true answer to your question is “it depends.” It’s never too late to get braces, with some precautions, but it can sometimes be too early. Getting braces too early can cause some issues, so be sure not to rush into it and always ask for more than one medical opinion.
What is the best age for your kid’s first Orthodontic Consult?
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that your child’s first orthodontic check-up is no later than age 7. That’s because most orthodontic treatments can’t begin before the age of 7 anyway, or before your child’s first molars have erupted.
But this doesn’t mean that your child can’t see an orthodontist before then. In fact, I personally recommend that parents bring their child for their first checkup around the age of 5. At the very least, just to make sure everything’s okay.
Even though they’ll only have primary teeth at 5 years old, there are certain malocclusions, such as underbites, that are visible early and need to be corrected sooner, rather than later. Thumb sucking and other harmful oral habits can be corrected very early on through the use of silicone habit appliances.
Here’s what you need to watch for during your child’s first 7 years of life:
- thumb sucking
- grinding of the teeth (either at night or during the day)
- teeth that overlap or come in crooked
- jaws that are either too forward or too far back
- protruding teeth
- inability to close lips together
- mouth breathing
- difficulty chewing
- early loss of temporary teeth (especially deciduous canines)
- top and bottom teeth that don’t meet
- deep bite
- any type of facial or dental asymmetry
What will happen at the 7 year old consult?
Your child’s first orthodontic checkup may not look the same in every orthodontist’s office, but typically, it goes something like this.
On the first visit, the orthodontist will take X-rays of your child’s teeth to make sure everything is okay. There’s a lot more to your child’s teeth than meets the eye, and the permanent teeth that are developing inside the bone will be visible in an X-Ray for your doctor to see.
Panoramic X-rays can detect issues like crowding, canines that are positioned incorrectly (not vertical enough), supernumerary teeth, missing teeth, benign tumors like odontoma, and much more.
A different kind of X-ray, called a cephalometric radiograph, shows the profile of your child’s bones and their relations (normal, too forward, or too far back), and your orthodontist can even figure out the growth projection of your child’s bones.
Here’s an example of how these two X-rays actually look like:
After analyzing the radiographs, the orthodontist will inspect your child’s teeth, gums, and even tongue, looking for dental cavities, gingivitis, lip ties, and tongue ties. Hopefully, your child is already under a dentist’s supervision.
Your doctor may also ask about certain habits your child might have: mouth breathing, thumb sucking, sucking on pens, blankets, or other objects, tongue thrusting, and lisps. Most of these habits are easily fixed with appliances starting at this age.
The first orthodontic checkup is also the ideal time to get an estimate for when treatment with braces will begin and how much will it cost, so you can start saving.
Keep in mind that less than 50% of children actually need braces, and few children need early treatment, so your 7-year-old may not need any intervention at all, or they might get a quick orthodontic cosmetic straightening when they’re older.
What is the best age for braces for kids?
The best age to start orthodontic treatment is during early adolescence, generally before puberty hits. But when, exactly, is a very individual matter.
For a long time, orthodontic treatment was split into two phases, called ‘Phase 1’ and ‘Phase 2’ – I know, not the most original. These two phases were meant to complement each other as the child grew and the permanent teeth came in.
During Phase 1, orthodontists focused on expansion, through rapid palatal expanders. This was typically done between the ages of 7 and 10. Not all kids need expansion, but in cases of crossbite, narrow maxillary arches, and class II malocclusions, orthodontists routinely use rapid palatal expanders.
Some orthodontists also straighten teeth at this age, using partial braces called 2×4 braces. This is often temporary and most children in Phase 1 will need full braces eventually. The benefits of early partial braces and routine rapid palatal expansion are limited according to new studies, so more orthodontists are pushing the age of braces to later.
Phase 2 orthodontics is when patients get the actual braces, typically around 11 to 13 years old. Many patients skip phase 1, because they don’t need it, and go straight to phase 2. Ideally, kids should have most, if not all permanent teeth erupted (except for wisdom teeth) before getting braces – particularly canines and second molars.
Because permanent teeth can come in at various ages – anywhere from 10 to 14 years old – age is not the best predictor of when your child will get braces. It’s more important that they’re physically and mentally ready for the treatment ahead, and that they don’t get braces too early. Here’s what I mean:
Why not bond braces earlier than 11?
Getting braces earlier than necessary will not only lead to longer treatment time, but can also hurt your child’s teeth.
If your child’s permanent canines haven’t come in yet, it may take a while before they’re erupted and aligned on the arch. Keep in mind that canines are strong teeth with long roots, and they move very slowly, which means more time with braces.
The same can be said about the second molars. Many orthodontists don’t bond the last molars, although they should. Second molars are very helpful in correcting deep bite cases and should be generally bonded early, that’s why it would be better to wait until they erupt.
Bonding braces too early will lead to longer treatment time, but that’s not all. More time with braces can lead to serious teeth and gum issues, especially if your child isn’t the most disciplined with oral hygiene or excited about braces.
Here are some of the consequences of extended time in braces:
- poor oral hygiene and plaque buildup
- white spot lesions on your child’s enamel because of poor hygiene
- gingivitis and gums growing over braces
- multiple broken brackets
- poor elastic compliance because the patient is too young and not mentally ready
- higher costs for the parents – bracket maintenance, multiple appointments
So, as you see your child’s canines fully come in, and it looks like most permanent teeth have erupted, it’s time to contact your orthodontist and benefit from that ideal window of treatment.
If you’re worried you might miss the best time for getting braces, just go to your orthodontist sooner and ask for a more specific estimate for your child.
What is the best age for jaw surgery?
Sometimes, your child will need more orthodontic treatment than just braces. A small percent of the population will need corrective jaw surgery. This is something that your orthodontist can confirm early, although sometimes children’s jaw can grow and correct themselves.
Orthognathic surgery is a serious intervention and can get quite expensive if not covered by medical insurance, so many people who actually need it refuse to have corrective jaw surgery or aren’t able to afford it.
It’s good to know your child’s options early on. Expect your child to need surgery if he/she has one of these severe malocclusions:
- severe overbite
- severe underbite
- severe dental asymmetry
- severe open bite and lip incompetence
The best age for orthognathic surgery is after the growth has stopped, which is 14-16 for girls and 17-21 for boys. Adults can have orthognathic surgery at any time with great results, but younger people tend to recover faster and better.
I know orthognathic surgery may seem scary, but there are many benefits to your child’s health, ability to chew food, and self-esteem.
I’m sure you want to do the very best for your child when it comes to their smile and dental health. Many parents who had braces themselves are particularly worried that their children will inherit their crooked teeth – and they’re right to be worried.
So remember, bring your child to the orthodontist at no longer than 7 years old, and get started with braces during early adolescence, once the permanent teeth have all erupted. Good luck!
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