Let's Get Things Straight: An Orthodontic Primer for Parents

“My 8 year old daughter was referred to your office for a consultation and the first thing I thought was, ‘Braces….already?'” “Some of my son’s friends have braces but they are only in 4th grade?”  These are two of the most frequent questions in my practice. Parents wonder: (1)Why should my child see an orthodontist around age 7, and (2)Why would a child need orthodontic treatment in elementary school and then possibly again in junior high?

New technologies, innovations and research advances in orthodontics make it no surprise that parents hear varying opinions from the internet, dentists and orthodontists.  Ultimately parents want the best for their children and education is vital to making the best decision.

“Evaluation around age 7…Good for you and your child”

An initial evaluation by an orthodontist (www.braces.org) around the age of seven is less about braces and more about how the teeth and jaws are growing.  At this developmental stage, orthodontists can determine the long term plan:  how best to improve the alignment of the teeth and jaws, and how to address overbite, crowding of the teeth, etc.  A vast majority of my young patients do not need early treatment, however it is the ideal time to establish an orthodontic game plan.  This plan, in conjunction with regular checkups, helps orthodontists keep treatment time and costs to a minimum.  Some children have bite problems that need early correction to prevent excessive wear of the teeth, improve jaw growth patterns, or make room for adult teeth (to name a few). These patients especially benefit from an early evaluation.

“Braces and retainers in 4th grade?  What’s that about?”

Early orthodontic treatment has been a controversial subject. Fortunately recent research has shifted the discussion from one about opinions, to one with research that supports treatment recommendations.  Only a small percentage (about 10%) of our young patients needs early orthodontic treatment. In early treatment, orthodontists intercept certain problems at a young age that, if left alone, would either be impossible to correct in the future when the jaws are done growing or require patients to accept a less than ideal outcome.  Of course some children have teeth so misaligned that they are uncomfortable smiling or even get teased; though treatment could be delayed, these patients deserve to smile confidently and many parents choose to have early treatment. Most orthodontists offer complimentary exams and will make your visit worthwhile.

Dr. William Schlicher (Dr. Will) lives and practices in Pleasanton. He attended UCLA for his B.S., Harvard for dental school, and UCSF for his specialty training in orthodontics and an M.S. in craniofacial biology.  He is also on faculty at UCSF. You can learn more about his current practice on his website, www.pleasantonortho.com.