Do Braces Make Sense for Little Kids?

Do I have to do this twice?

When I think of braces, I think of a 14-year-old with a mouth full of metal.  But these days, more and more 7-to-10 year-olds are getting braces.  Why?

The answer depends on whom you ask. Some parents who think that early braces means no braces or a shorter time with braces in awkward adolescence.  Others feel that a dentist will refer young patients to an orthodontist to drum up business. Meanwhile some orthodontists feel pressure from parents and kids to straighten up those teeth fast because, as Cynthia Beeman, associate professor of orthodontics at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry in Lexington is quoted saying in the Wall Street Journal, “It is in the culture now that kids want to look like celebrities.”

Whatever the reason, the basic question remains: Will braces for kids under 10 mean no more braces when they’re teens?According to the Journal story, the answer is it depends on what the problem is.  If a child has an under bite (as my son does) or a narrow upper palate, then early treatment makes sense. Why? Because you’re shifting things around before the jaw is fully formed and harder to treat.  A child who’s 7 or 8 may get a device to widen his palate which in turn will make his teeth line up better.  If he needs further treatment as a teenager, that treatment is likely to be shorter and easier than it would have otherwise been. This is exactly what one pediatric dentist told us when he saw my son’s mouth.

But, if your child has an over bite there are “no measurable benefits” to early treatment.   Your kid’s teeth will look better for the braces, but several studies show he’ll probably need treatment again as a teenager. Which means he’d have to go through braces twice and you have to pay for it twice. It’s great to look good for the pictures, but it’s not so great to pay a few thousand dollars for each round of treatment and go through the discomfort of braces more than once.  While looks are important in this culture, is a perfect smile for a 9-year-old worth it?

How much is that perfect smile worth to you — or your child? And if it’s worth an awful lot to your child, would you agree to braces for an 8-year-old even if you knew your child might need them again when he’s a teenager?

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