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Bracing for Your Child's Orthodontic Care

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children have an orthodontic screening no later than age 7. It may sound a little early in a child's life, but orthodontic problems may be easier to correct if treated early--before all the permanent teeth have come in.

Common orthodontic problems include teeth crowding, "overjet" or protruding upper teeth, overbite and underbite.

Teeth crowding occurs when the teeth are aligned poorly because the dental arch is small or the teeth are large. The bone and gums over the roots of extremely crowded teeth may become thin and recede as a result of severe crowding.

"Overjet" or protruding upper teeth are terms used to describe front teeth that protrude beyond normal contact with the lower front teeth. They are prone to injury and often indicate a poor bite of the back teeth and may indicate unevenness in jaw growth.

Deep overbite is when the lower incisor (front) teeth bite too close or into the gum tissue behind the upper teeth, causing significant bone and discomfort. A deep bite can also lead to excessive wear of the front teeth.

Spacing problems can create a poor appearance when teeth are missing or small or the dental arch is very wide.

A crossbite is when the upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth (toward the tongue). This is commonly corrected early due to biting and chewing difficulties.

When left untreated, many orthodontic problems become worse. Treatment early is often less costly than the additional dental care required to treat more serious problems that can develop in later years. Also, the value of an attractive smile should not be underestimated. A pleasing appearance is a vital asset to one's self-confidence.

Today's braces are less noticeable than those of the past when a metal band with a bracket was placed around each tooth. Now, the front teeth have only the bracket bonded directly to the tooth, minimizing the "tin grin." Also, modern wires are less noticeable and are made of "space age" materials--exerting a steady, gentle pressure on the teeth so that the tooth-moving process may be faster and more comfortable for patients.

Invisible braces are called "aligners"--invisible molds created by computer software that move teeth to a desired position.

Braces don't have to be boring. These colored rubber bands can actually make it fun for a child to wear braces. They can change the colors every month if they want.

A night brace or headgear is used to move the back teeth back.

Once the braces are off, retainers are another colorful means of personal expression. Some glow in the dark, and some are personalized with a photo of Fido, Cindy Crawford or even the logo of a favorite sports team.

The actual cost of treatment depends on several factors including the severity of the patient's problem and the treatment approach selected. They still cost a lot of money--anywhere from $1800 to $4500, but they are cheaper than before and thee's always a payment plan. For children, most treatment is covered by insurance.

If you're thinking about braces for your child, review the recommended treatment with your family dentist. You should feel confident in the orthodontist and his or her staff and trust their ability to provide you the care and lifetime orthodontic value you seek. Remember that treatment requires lifetime maintenance. Once the braces are off, it doesn't mean you don't have to follow up with using a retainer or go for follow up visits. It's also important for parents to be positive with their kids. Don't make them dread getting braces. Tell them the braces will help make them look better and feel better about themselves.

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