importance of orthodontics

Thinking about your child and whether orthodontic treatment might be needed at some point? You’ve come to the right place. Orthodontic treatment can be a very important part of your child’s oral health care.

What is the purpose of orthodontic treatment?

The purpose of orthodontic treatment is to create a healthy, functional “bite,” which is part tooth alignment and part jaw position. When jaws and teeth line up correctly, they are able to function as nature intended. This promotes oral health and general physical health. That orthodontic treatment also brings about an attractive smile is an added bonus.

How will orthodontic treatment help my child?

Orthodontic treatment will help your child bite and chew, and contribute to clear speech. When teeth function properly, they tend to look nice. An attractive smile is a pleasant side effect of orthodontic treatment, and can have emotional benefits. Self-confidence and self-esteem may improve as orthodontic treatment brings teeth, lips and face into proportion. Straight teeth are less prone to decay, gum disease and injury.

Orthodontic treatment is just cosmetic, right?

Wrong! There’s much more to orthodontic treatment than meets the eye. An improved appearance is the most obvious result. But when teeth and jaws are in alignment, it means function (biting, chewing, speaking) is improved, too.

The beautiful smile that results from orthodontic treatment is the outward sign of good oral health, and sets the stage for the patient’s overall well-being. Orthodontic treatment plays a larger role in healthcare than is generally realized.

Where did my child’s orthodontic problems come from?

Most orthodontic problems are inherited. Some are “acquired,” developing over time by sucking the thumb or fingers, mouth breathing, dental disease, abnormal swallowing, poor dental hygiene, or early or late loss of baby teeth, accidents and poor nutrition. Sometimes an inherited orthodontic problem is complicated by an acquired problem. Whatever the cause, orthodontists are usually able to treat most conditions successfully.

Won’t my child’s teeth straighten out as they grow?

Unfortunately, your child’s teeth will not straighten out as he or she grows. The space available for the permanent front teeth does not increase as one grows. For most people, after the permanent (12 year) molars come in, there is even less space available for the front teeth.

Untreated orthodontic problems can become worse, and more difficult to treat as a child gets older. Untreated problems may lead to tooth decay, gum disease, broken front teeth and loss of bone tissue that holds teeth in place.

What’s the right age for orthodontic treatment?

There is not one “right” chronological age for orthodontic treatment. Ideally, children should have an orthodontic evaluation no later than the age of 7. But there is an ideal time to begin treatment for an individual who needs it. Timing is determined by the type of problem that the child has or may be developing, and the child’s stage of dental development. Some patients may require tooth movement only, while others may need help with guiding the growth of their jaws, or to correct a sucking habit or abnormal swallowing pattern that can re-shape the bone. Rely on your AAO orthodontist to advise you on the ideal time for your child to be treated.

Why does the AAO say that kids should see an orthodontist for a check-up no later than age 7? Isn’t 7 too young to get braces?

Around age 7, children have a mix of baby (primary) and permanent teeth. A check-up as permanent teeth take the place of baby teeth, and as the face and jaws are growing, gives the orthodontist a wealth of information. If a problem exists, or if one is developing, your orthodontist is able to advise you on whether treatment is recommended, when it should begin, what form treatment will take, and estimate its length.

Remember, there is a difference between an orthodontic check-up and actually starting orthodontic treatment. Only a few orthodontic problems will need correction around age 7. Even so, not all treatment is done using braces.

In the event that a problem is detected, chances are your orthodontist will take a “wait-and-see” approach, and will check your child’s growth and development periodically. If treatment is needed, it can begin at the appropriate age for your child.

What if my child is older than 7 – is it too late for a check-up?

If your child is older than 7, it is not too late for a check-up. Should treatment be needed, keep in mind that many patients begin treatment between the ages of 9 and 16, depending on their physiological development and treatment needs. Orthodontists are usually able to treat most conditions successfully.

Should we wait to see the orthodontist until my child has all of his/her permanent teeth?

No. Waiting until all the permanent teeth have come in, or until facial growth is nearly complete, could make correction of some orthodontic problems more difficult. Some things cannot be accomplished once the face and jaws are no longer growing.

Who provides orthodontic treatment?

Orthodontists are specialists in orthodontic care, but some general dentists and pediatric dentists offer orthodontic treatment. Like general and pediatric dentists, orthodontists graduate from dental school. Unlike general and pediatric dentists, those who wish to become orthodontists must continue their education after dental school, and successfully complete a two-to-three year course of study in orthodontics at an accredited orthodontic residency program. This extra education qualifies them as specialists in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. As specialists, orthodontists limit their scope of practice to orthodontics only. Orthodontists are uniquely qualified, by virtue of education and scope of practice, as experts who have the skills and experience to give your child a healthy and beautiful smile.

Is my dentist an orthodontist?

If your dentist limits his/her practice to providing only orthodontic treatment (prevention, diagnosis and treatment of facial and dental irregularities), and is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists, then he/she is an orthodontist.

If your dentist provides general dental services such as cleanings, fillings, and overall management to maintain or restore oral healthy, then he/she is probably not an orthodontist.

Use Find an Orthodontist to locate AAO orthodontists. The AAO only admits educationally qualified orthodontists as members.

Are there board-certified orthodontists?

Yes. These orthodontists have completed the American Board of Orthodontics Specialty Certification exams. Board-certified orthodontists are known as Diplomates of the American Board of Orthodontics. The American Board of Orthodontics is the only orthodontic specialty certifying board that is recognized by the American Dental Association. Board certification is voluntary for orthodontists.

In Canada, specialists are certified by the Royal College of Dentists of Canada (RCDC). All specialists in Canada must meet the standards set by the RCDC in order to call themselves specialists.

What if my dentist says s/he can do my child’s braces?

Consider seeking a second opinion with an AAO orthodontist, who is a specialist in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of orthodontic problems. While there is some instruction regarding orthodontics in dental school, it is minimal. It is in the post-dental school orthodontic residency program that orthodontists receive intense instruction to learn proper, safe tooth movement (orthodontics) and the guidance of dental, jaw and facial development (dentofacial orthopedics). These extra years of school make the orthodontist the specialist in moving teeth and aligning jaws. This is the only focus of their practice.

Should I wait for our dentist to refer my child to an orthodontist?

No. Parents may be the first to realize that something is “off” about their child’s teeth or jaws. If you have a concern, contact an AAO orthodontist to schedule a visit. Many AAO orthodontists offer such check-ups at no cost and with no obligation.

How do I schedule an appointment for an initial exam?

Use Find an Orthodontist to locate an AAO orthodontist near you. Through the service, you can call an AAO orthodontist’s office, or send an e-mail to schedule a check-up.