If you look at photographs of high schoolers from the 1950's and 60's, you’ll see that many of the teenagers have smiles that are framed with braces. The sight is much less common these days. This is because kids now tend to get their braces at an early age, with some beginning treatment at the age of just 6 or 7.
So is there a best age for your child to get braces? To answer that question we need to look at the two approaches used when it comes to orthodontic treatment for children.
The interceptive approach treats children at younger ages, typically between 7 and 11. It is argued that interceptive orthodontics results in fewer teeth being extracted and leads to a better end result. The interceptive approach is split into two phases; phase one begins around the age of eight or nine, and commences with treatment to extract teeth and the use of braces for one or two years. This is followed by a retention phase, in which the child wears a retainer for one to three years, while the rest of the baby teeth fall out.
Phase two begins around the age of 11 upwards, and last for up to two years. One drawback of the interceptive approach is that, with treatment often lasting for up to five or six years in total, it can be expensive, and can mean your child has to deal with wearing braces for a longer time.
The American Association of Orthodontics has published a recommendation that young children are screened to see if they require orthodontic treatment, as this is when permanent teeth begin to arrive in the mouth and any problems with crooked teeth become apparent. At the same time, your dentist will also assess your child for any problems with the jaw bones, crossbones and overcrowding. If the problem is severe, it is likely that it will be recommended that treatment be started sooner rather than later. With less acute problems, it is often down to the parent to decide when to begin treatment, taking into account the individual needs of the child.
The traditional approach to orthodontics is to wait until all the adult teeth have arrived. This is around the age of 11 or 12. One of the benefits of this approach is that the dentist knows exactly what they are dealing with, and doesn’t have to attempt to predict how teeth will arrive and develop. The traditional approach also means your child spends less time in braces – normally around 2 years – although these are the sensitive teen years, which means your child is less likely to be compliant with the treatment than if they were younger.
In truth, the best age at which your child should be treated with braces will depend on the type and severity of the dental problem. You should also seek the advice of at least one dental professional if you suspect your child needs braces. It isn’t unusual for different orthodontists and dentists who specialize in pediatric treatments to disagree, because they have different philosophies about when it is best to commence treatment. You shouldn’t be surprised if you ask for a second opinion and receive a slightly different answer!