Little girl holding an artificial model of human jaw with dental braces in orthodontic office, smiling. Pediatric dentistry, aesthetic dentistry, early education and prevention concept.

Thomas C. Baker, D.M.D, Baker Pediatric Dentistry

This is one of the most common questions I hear from parents. I typically try to explain to parents that most patients never actually need braces as it is mainly an elective procedure, but for aesthetic reasons, braces can be beneficial and do a lot for a person’s self-worth. Parents interested in pursuing orthodontic treatment for their child often ask, “When should we start braces?” For many patients, orthodontic treatment is started when a child has lost all of his or her baby teeth; however, there can be benefits to seeking treatment much earlier.

As children lose baby teeth and gain permanent teeth, they go through a phase commonly referred to as the “Ugly Duckling Stage” characterized by large permanent front teeth adjacent to smaller baby teeth. In some cases, these larger permanent teeth create crowding issues with rotated teeth that were not previously visible when the patient had just baby teeth. Early orthodontic treatment is a simple but effective method to correct some of these early misaligned teeth, and a pediatric dentist can utilize a patient’s development to reduce the severity of dental problems down the road.

As the patient grows, a discrepancy may also develop where the top front teeth are positioned in front of the bottom teeth. In dentistry, the term “overjet” is used to describe this horizontal distance between the top and bottom teeth. A large overjet may double or even triple the risk for a traumatic dental injury, such as knocking a tooth out, tooth fracture or displacement. Many of these dental injuries are left untreated because the cost to fix them are generally high and may require several dental visits to complete treatment. Untreated dental injuries often lead to psychosocial problems and a decrease in quality of life. Measures to reduce the risk for a traumatic dental injury may include orthodontic treatment or mouth protection.

Early orthodontic treatment may be of special interest because it not only corrects misaligned teeth and reduces risk for dental injuries, but it also has been shown to increase a child’s self-concept and potential. So the next time you visit your pediatric dentist be sure to ask him, “Does my child need braces?” Hopefully he or she will answer, “Probably not, but could he benefit from braces? Probably!”

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