By Chris Woolston, M.S.
Does my child need braces?
Strictly speaking, no child really "needs" braces. Crooked teeth are a cosmetic problem, not a health problem. But since teeth are so important to a person's appearance, braces are often worth the investment. There are lots of reasons why an orthodontist might recommend braces for your child, including severe overbite, crowded or crooked teeth. Braces will help teeth grow in straight and evenly spaced, the best foundation for a nice smile.
Are thumb suckers more likely to need braces?
Most bite problems are inherited, so you usually can't blame thumb sucking or anything else other than genes. Thumb sucking in the toddler and preschool years is really unlikely likely to do any long-term damage. But if they're still sucking when their permanent teeth start to come in usually around age five, it's possible the growing teeth could get sucked out of place, creating crowding or an overbite.
How do braces work?
Typical braces consist of tiny brackets attached to the front of the teeth that are connected with a wire. The orthodontist adjusts the wire every four to six weeks to pull the teeth into the position. Sometimes the brackets can be put on the back of the teeth, making the braces less noticeable. Depending on the severity of the bite problem, the orthodontist might recommend rubber bands that connect the top teeth to the lower teeth or headgear that wraps around the head to put extra pressure on the teeth. When the braces come off, your child will likely wear a retainer (a removable mouth appliance) to help keep the teeth in place until the jaw stops growing.
Do braces hurt?
Today's braces are very comfortable compared to the models from past generations. Because orthodontists can glue brackets directly to the teeth, they don't have to force metal bands around each tooth. The wires are more flexible, too, so they don't cause much unnecessary pressure. Your child may still feel a little sore for a day or two after the braces are tightened. A little acetaminophen or ibuprofen should help ease the discomfort.
How long will my child have to wear braces, and how much will it cost?
Every case is different, of course, but most kids wear braces for one to three years. The cost ranges from $1,800 to $6,500. Your orthodontist can give you a better estimate after examining your child's teeth, including x-rays.
American Dental Association. Braces and Orthodontics. http://www.ada.org/2598.aspx
American Academy of Orthodontists. Orthodontic Emergencies and Other Problems. http://www.braces.org/
Children's Hospital of Denver. Braces. http://www.thechildrenshospital.org/wellness/info/kids/20194.aspx
Federal Citizen Information Center. Straight talk on braces. http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/health/straight_talk/talk.htm
Cleveland Clinic. Braces and Retainers. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/devices/dental_care/hic_braces_and_retainers.aspx