What Age Your Child Should Have Orthodontic Braces

How Teeth Indicate Facial Growth and Development

Braces are probably one of the most dreaded words for a parent to hear when taking their child for a dental check-up. Orthodontics relate to many issues for young developing children including their self-image. For a parent, the concern for their child to develop a healthy smile is also confounded by the sometimes prohibitive cost of braces.

However, crooked teeth can indicate developmental problems for a child that influence their breathing, posture, and sleep habits. While the traditional idea of an orthodontic correction is through bracketing (braces), many orthodontists and dentists are now employing preventative treatments to correct habits that potentially prevent braces altogether.  

Three girls, one with braces
Paul Simcock / Getty Images

When Your Child Should Get an Orthodontic Checkup

If you think your child has crooked teeth, when should you plan for orthodontic treatment? There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about when a child should commence orthodontic work. The American Association Of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that most children have an orthodontic assessment by age 7.

Studies have shown that braces are more frequently applied to children at a later date (11-13) than the younger prepubescent (8-10) bracket. Which is correct for your child?

Traditional Approaches to Orthodontics

Up until recent times, there has been a general consensus that a child with dental arch problems should wait until around the age of 12 when all of their baby teeth have fallen out before having orthodontic braces. The idea was that the treatment course is much more predictable when the adult dentition has fully erupted to avoid the need for repeat treatment. 

However today we now know that crooked teeth can be a sign that the upper and lower jaw aren’t developing properly, which impacts a child’s facial, airway, and spinal posture. Therefore a child’s dental growth may mean that corrective therapy should be considered to assist a child’s facial and dental growth.

Two-Phase Orthodontic Treatment

In some cases, your child's orthodontist may recommend two-phase treatment, in which treatment is done at two different times, during different phases of a child's growth and development. This is recommended when problems that will eventually need orthodontic become obvious before a child has all of their permanent teeth.

Signs Your Child Needs Braces

Until age 10, your child will go through crucial growth phases that shape many of the important structures of their face and head. At birth, the skull is made up of softer material that makes up cartilage in our joints. As the child grows, cartilage is converted to the bone that will form the adult skull. 

Upper teeth are related to the development of the upper jawbone or maxilla. When the upper dental arch is crooked, it may indicate that the upper airways or sinuses are cramped which can cause a child to breathe through their mouth. Mouth breathing, along with other signs that child needs braces include, snoring at night, slumped posture, poor sleep, and dark circles or venous pooling under the eyes. All of these observations in a child may indicate that a child is at risk of future sleep-disorders and potential ill-health.

Myofunctional and Prepubescent Orthodontic Treatment

With crooked teeth being related to the airway, breathing, and facial development, orthodontists are now taking all of these factors into consideration when assessing a child’s dental development. Earlier dental diagnosis and treatment of airway dysfunction and facial growth now gives a much broader scope of childhood dental assessment.

Early intervention orthodontics includes using functional appliances that assist the child’s jaws to develop properly. For example, palatal expanders can be employed increase airway volume which may assist functional breathing and swallowing. When the habits of the child are corrected, development of the jaws can be normalized and this may lead to a reduction of complexity of orthodontic treatment in the future.

Prepare Your Child for Early Assessment

There are many factors that influence your child’s smile growing healthy and straight. However, the health factors surrounding breathing and sleep that can accompany crooked teeth mean that parents should always take their child for early dental checkups to see if early intervention orthodontics is suitable for them. 

1 Source
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  1. American Academy of Orthodontists. The Right Time for an Orthodontic Check-Up.

Additional Reading

By Steven Lin, DDS
Steven Lin, DDS, is a dentist, TEDx speaker, health educator, and author.