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Are Your Kids Begging for Braces?

Claire Barto of Collegeville, PA, has a lot to smile about these days.

“My teeth used to be jagged, but now they’re straight,” says the 10-year-old, who recently had braces on her upper teeth.

Claire isn’t the only child now smiling proudly. According to the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), more than 3.5 million children ages 8-17 wore braces in 2006. And with braces being such a common sight among youngsters, much of the stigma of wearing them has disappeared. In fact, thanks to a variety of high-tech and trendy options now available, parents may be surprised to find their kids begging for braces.

But, before this happens, it’s a good idea to brush up on some braces basics.

Benefits of Braces

Most orthodontists agree that a common reason children want braces is to help boost their self-esteem. Like Claire, many children don’t want to smile because of their crooked teeth. Ali S. Husain, DMD, an orthodontist with Delaware Orthodontics in Newark, DE and Middletown, DE, has witnessed this firsthand.

“Many patients are so self-conscious about their teeth that they will not smile, or they will cover their mouth when they speak,” he says. “We see a miraculous change in their self-image as we progress through treatment.”

Straight teeth don’t just look better, they’re healthier, too. “Without treatment, orthodontic problems can lead to peridontal issues,” says M. Constance B. Greeley, DDS, an orthodontist with Greeley & Nista Orthodontics in Wilmington, DE and Newark, DE. When teeth are properly aligned, they’re easier to clean; and when teeth are clean and plaque-free, they’re less susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.

Detection and Intervention

Looking for an Orthodontist?

To find an orthodontist who will make your child smile, ask these simple questions.

• Who does my dentist recommend? Dentists not only work with orthodontists in coordinating patient care, but also regularly view the results of alignment procedures and can pass their evaluations on to you.

• Has the orthodontist graduated from an accredited orthodontic program? How many years does he have in practice? “Definitely look at their credentials,” says Delaware orthodontis Ali Husain, DMD.

• Does the orthodontist offer a free consultation? Does she accept my insurance plan? And does she offer payment plans with no interest?

• Is my child comfortable with the orthodontist? “Communication is key,” says orthodontist M. Constance Greeley, DDS. “Kids are more likely to follow instructions if they like their doctor.”

• Is the orthodontist nearby, with convenient office hours?

• Are other moms recommending this orthodontist? “I asked around to see who my friends were using,” says mom Julie Barto.

• Is the orthodontist using the latest equipment and techniques?

The American Association of Orthodontists offers an orthodontist locator service at www.braces.com

Your family dentist will most likely be the first to point out any problems. Some signs that can indicate the need for an orthodontic examination are early or late loss of baby teeth, mouth breathing, thumb or finger sucking, misplaced or blocked teeth, jaws that shift or make sounds and teeth that meet abnormally or not at all.

The AAO recommends that children get an orthodontist checkup no later than age 7, but an examination is advisable any time a particular problem is noted by a parent, dentist or physician.

“Some children are excellent candidates for orthodontic treatment, even though they may still have some baby teeth,” says Dr. Steven Cohen, DMD, MSD an orthodontist with offices in Philadelphia and New Jersey. Waiting until all the permanent teeth have come in, or until facial growth is nearly complete, may make correction of some problems more difficult.

“The goal of early orthodontic treatment,” says Dr. Cohen, “is to guide jaw growth, lower the risk of trauma to protruded front teeth, correct harmful oral habits, and guide permanent teeth into a more favorable position.”

High-Tech Trends

If not prepared, parents might think they’re at a sci-fi movie instead of the orthodontist office. High-tech tools include robotic wire bending, 3-D digital images, space-age materials and computer simulation. For kids, this is where the fun really begins.

“Kids get into the technology,” says Dr. Greeley who uses a digital bracket positioning system. While patients enjoy watching the computer simulation of how their teeth will look after treatment, the technology allows orthodontists to fine-tune bracket placement with the click of a mouse. Braces can then be placed as a single unit, rather than tooth-by-tooth.

According to Dr. Husain, a new space-age treatment option he uses that provides similar features, also combines the precision wire-bending capability of robots, high-tech wire material and 3-D digital images of teeth to provide custom archwires.

Another buzz word in orthodontics is “tie-less” braces. This advanced system uses a slide mechanism on each tooth to hold the wire, eliminating the need for elastic ties.

While most kids still opt for traditional stainless steel braces, advances in technology have not only made braces less noticeable and the overall process faster and more comfortable, but fashionable, too.

According to Dr. Philip T. Siegel, DDS and Dr. Steve A. DelliGatti, DMD, orthodontists from Pediatric Dental Associates Ltd., in Philadelphia, Fort Washington and Southhampton, PA, kids can choose from brackets with different shapes and themes, colored elastics that tie the brackets in place and retainers with different colors, designs and picture add-ons.

It’s important to discuss with your orthodontist the best option for your child. Ceramic braces match tooth color, but they can break easily if not properly cared for. Lingual braces go behind the teeth, but can induce more irritation to the inner mouth and tongue. Invisalign, a system of clear, removable trays, is more suitable for kids who have fully developed molars.

Parental Concerns

“How long will my child have to wear braces, and how much will it cost, are the two most common questions I hear from parents,” says Dr. Greeley.

The bottom line is that it varies from patient to patient, but orthodontists agree kids can wear braces anywhere from one to three years. Depending on the complexity and length of treatment, and the type of appliance used, the cost may range from $1,500 to $6,000.

At the initial consultation, the orthodontist will perform a thorough exam of your child’s teeth and jaw, taking X-rays and impressions. Based on that, you’ll be advised on the best course of treatment and its estimated cost, including information about insurance and payment plans.

Karren L. Johnson is a former parenting magazine editor and freelance writer.

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