Braces for Children
Preventing Tooth and Jaw Problems Early
Dental braces are used to correct a number of common issues with an individual’s teeth. They’re often applied to straighten teeth that are crooked and experiencing significant crowding. They can also correct overbites, where the lower teeth are too far behind the upper teeth; under-bite, where the lower front teeth overlap those on top, rather than resting behind them; and other problems. Braces are often put onto children, preteens, and young teenagers. Treating these problems early can help to provide early correction for problems that can get worse as the child gets older. Although braces are sometimes used for adults or older teens, the prime age for correcting misalignment, overbite, and other tooth and jaw problems is usually considered to be around ten to fourteen years of age. Braces for children correct problems that would worsen over time, creating complications later in life such as tooth damage, jaw and facial pain, and other issues that would be more difficult and expensive to fix in an adult.
How Braces Work
Braces gradually move teeth from their original locations into newer, more ideal positions, usually over a period of one to three years. They put pressure onto the teeth using wires attached to brackets, which slowly pulls the teeth into their new positions. During the movement, the teeth and gums are loosened, and as they move, the bone begins to regrow and strengthen itself, fixing the teeth into a more correct alignment. Several types of braces are commonly used:
- Wire braces are the most common type of braces for children. Metal brackets are adhered to the fronts of the teeth, with wire running through them. Orthodontic bands, accommodated by using spacers to separate the teeth, are sometimes used to anchor the brackets on the molars.
- Ceramic braces are colorless or made to match the natural color of the teeth, so only the wire is visible. Because these type of braces are less conspicuous, the are sometimes preferred by self-conscious preteens and teenagers who don’t want a mouth full of metal.
- Clear aligners like Invisalign are more commonly used for adult orthodontic patients than in children, although they’re occasionally used by teenagers. These are custom-created clear devices that fit over the teeth, and are completely removable. Because they can be removed during meals and while brushing and flossing, the teeth are easier to clean than they are with traditional types of braces.
After the braces are removed, the child will usually be required to wear a retainer. Retainers are removable devices that help to keep the teeth in place after they’ve been realigned with braces. Initially they may be worn during the day, but will be worn overnight for several years. There are a couple of different types of retainers that are commonly fitted for children and teens after their braces are removed.
- Hawley retainers are made from metal and durable plastic. The plastic component fits against the top of the mouth, and a metal wire surrounds the front teeth to help keep them in place. The wire can be adjusted as needed. Some recent versions of Hawley retainers use clear plastic instead of metal for the wire component, making them less visible.
- Vacuum-formed retainers superficially resemble Invisalign aligners. They’re usually manufactured out of PVC. They’re completely clear, and usually fit over the entire upper or lower row of teeth. These are often preferred to Hawley retainers, although they’re more prone to cracking and breaking accidentally. Being sure to remove the retainers during meals can help prevent the risk of damage.
The Benefits of Braces for Children
Braces for children have the advantage of correcting skeletal issues while the body is still growing. Girls finish about 90% of their bone growth by age fourteen, and boys by about age 16. Jaw discrepancies are fairly common in children and preteens. This includes size differences between the upper low and jaws, as well as abnormalities of alignment. It’s often best to correct these problems between ages seven and ten. It’s also easier for misaligned teeth to be corrected while the child is still growing, once all of the permanent teeth have come in. During childhood, the teeth can move more easily through the bone, speeding up the process of having braces and creating results that remain more stable over time.