It might seem early, but it's possible that your 7-year-old is ready for a straighter smile, even with a few baby teeth. Here’s what all parents of early elementary schoolers should know about orthodontia:
Dentists now recommend kids consult with an orthodontist by age 7.
It used to be a classic teen rite of passage, but today, first- and second-graders are experiencing it. Why the rush? Turns out that some kids ages 7 to 11 are candidates for what orthodontists call interceptive treatment, a fancy way of saying interventions that fix things before they get too bad, says Christina R. Carter, D.M.D., a pediatric dentist and orthodontist in Summit, NJ. “We can address excessive crowding, as well as spacing and bite issues, all of which can help avert more involved treatments and even head off speech issues later on,” says Dr. Carter.
There’s more to orthodontia than just braces.
For more alignment help, some smiles need rubber bands strung between the metal squares. A palatal expander can widen the jaw to make room for adult teeth, while special retainers and mouth guards can curb thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which can force your little one’s teeth out of alignment.
Some issues still require waiting.
New research notes that there’s little benefit to treating an overbite (a.k.a. buck teeth) before age 10. “It’s often a better idea to wait until all or almost all of the adult teeth are in (around age 12 or 13) before trying to fix this, because there’s still growth to come in the lower jaw,” says Dr. Carter. The same wait-it-out strategy applies for kids who have very severe crowding or spacing issues, which can sometimes fix themselves naturally when adult teeth come in.
Braces can actually be cool.
Today “traditional” metal braces are small and sleek. “Even the wires are more streamlined and exert lighter force,” says Dr. Carter, so kids adapt more easily—and with fewer tears. There are also clear or ceramic braces in a range of hues, as well as braces in the shape of stars, footballs, baseballs, or hearts, which may appeal to young kids.
Treatment doesn’t have to break the bank.
Yes, the average price tag for braces isn’t cheap, and most insurance plans don’t cover the entire cost. But orthodontics qualify for flex spending and HSAs, and it’s worth considering treatment at a dental school, which may offer reduced rates. Many dental practices can also divide the total treatment fee into an interest-free monthly payment plan.