By Bonnie Schiedel
You survived the sleepless, fussy nights when your little one was teething. You made it through the excitement and drama of losing baby teeth. And now you’re wondering if your preteen might need braces.
The Canadian Association of Orthodontists (CAO) recommends that every child see an orthodontist by age seven to get a jump on any potential problems. “At that stage, we can help to intercept bad habits that can cause issues down the line,” says Dr. Bob Cram, an orthodontist in Red Deer, Alta., and CAO president. Some dental problems may be clearly visible to parents and your regular dentist but it’s best to see an orthodontist at least once, even if your child’s teeth look fine, in order to plan for the future or to just get the all-clear. “Most kids who get braces get them between ages nine and 13, when all the permanent teeth have erupted. By that point, we’re trying to catch a growth spurt and to tinker with the growth pattern of the teeth and mouth,” he says.
Braces straighten crooked or crowded teeth — defined as malocclusion — by applying steady pressure for a certain amount of time (generally about two years). Common cases of malocclusion are teeth that have too much or too little room in the jaw, resulting in ones that crowd or grow out of place. Other causes are thumb sucking, pacifier use and premature tooth loss. Malocclusion also refers to overbites (upper teeth overlapping lower teeth), underbites (lower teeth overlapping upper teeth) and upper protrusion (buck teeth). For some preteens it can be a cosmetic problem, while for others it can result in problems eating or speaking.
• METAL Those familiar metal braces are most likely what your orthodontist will recommend for tweens, since they are the most durable. Formerly made with stainless steel wire, the archwires of metal braces are often now made from nickel titanium, which move teeth brackets faster and more gently and mean fewer and less frequent office visits, explains Dr. Cram. Does your tween have her heart set on star-shaped brackets and purple wires? Those options are only available with the old stainless steel braces (those with twin brackets) that require rubber ligatures.
• CERAMIC The brackets are made from translucent or tooth-coloured material, meaning the braces are less visible. They are a bit more fragile and costly than metal braces, and because the brackets are larger, they require more attention to oral hygiene.
• LINGUAL Marketed under the brand name iBraces, these metal braces are worn behind the teeth. They are more difficult to install and the brackets aren’t usually used on preteens because they may not have all their permanent teeth yet.
• ALIGNERS These aren’t braces, but rather clear plastic removable trays, sold under the brand name Invisalign. Worn nearly 24/7 during treatment (nine to 15 months), they are only removed to eat, drink, floss and brush and cost about the same as braces. However, they need to be replaced every two weeks.
• RETAINERS These removable appliances keep newly straightened teeth in line and are often included in the overall cost of braces. They may also be worn to correct problems that don’t require braces, such as closing a space or moving just one tooth.
Many kids find that braces are no big deal because so many of their friends have them. “At first I thought that braces were kind of dorky, but after a couple weeks I just got used to them,” says Megan Foster, 13, of Thunder Bay, Ont., who’s had braces since she was 10 (her baby teeth were reluctant to depart, meaning that she has to wear braces a little longer). “She does get a sore mouth for a day or two after an adjustment, but a pain reliever takes care of it,” adds her mom, Lana Bresele. “I also think knowing that her dad and I both had braces helps because we understand.”
Freelance writer Bonnie Schiedel was charmed to learn that Dr. Cram has made doggie braces for his local RCMP canine training unit.