Everything You Need to Know About Braces

Josh Miller came to see orthodontist Chris Carpenter with a severe overbite at age 9. His father had needed jaw surgery and extractions when he was a teenager to correct the same condition. But because Josh began treatment early, Carpenter was able to use orthodontic appliances to guide bone growth, then apply braces to straighten his teeth—eliminating the need for surgery or extractions. At 15, Josh is now out of braces and wearing a retainer to maintain his new alignment.

Josh’s case illustrates the trend toward beginning orthodontic treatment earlier and completing it in two phases:

  • Phase 1 corrects the shape, width or alignment of the jaw (dentofacial orthopedics).
  • Phase 2 moves and straightens the teeth (traditional orthodontics).

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that all children receive an orthodontic screening by age 7. “You may not treat them at age 7, but you can begin a strategy,” explains Don Joondeph, D.D.S., M.S., an orthodontics professor and a member of the AAO board of trustees. At age 7, permanent teeth are beginning to come in and orthodontic problems become apparent. (For a complete list of early warning signs, click here.) At the same time, bones are still growing, giving the orthodontist the chance to “sequence and orchestrate” treatment, Joondeph says.

“If the patient is not seen until all the permanent teeth come in, growth is finished and it’s too late,” Joondeph says. The orthodontist loses the opportunity to correct jaw alignment. The result is often a longer period in braces later and more extractions of permanent teeth. This is especially true for girls, who finish growing earlier.

The AAO estimates that 75 percent of Americans suffer from malocclusion (literally “bad bite”) and could benefit from orthodontic treatment. Orthodontia not only improves appearance, but makes teeth easier to clean, prevents uneven wear on teeth, reduces stress on bones and gums, and can prevent headaches and jaw pain due to poor alignment.

Currently, nearly 5 million people in the United States and Canada are in orthodontic treatment; 80 percent are under age 18. Clearly, for many kids, braces have worked wonders, transforming crooked rows of teeth into superb smiles. But is orthodontic treatment right for your child?

Brace Yourself: A Complete Guide to Orthodontics

At what age is my child ready for braces? How much will treament cost? Can kids with braces chew bubblegum? The answers to these and other common braces-related questions can be found within these added features: