Ask the Dentist: How Young is too Young for Braces?
Should your child get teeth-straightening treatment now or later, and why? Are they too young for braces? Dr Elstan Lim weighs in on all your key considerations.
Do you get many teens and tweens asking for teeth-straightening procedures?
Plenty! These days, we’re seeing more young patients and their parents coming in for orthodontic work. A good number of them are looking to fix functional issues associated with their bite (how their teeth come together), while others are more concerned about aesthetics. In either case, I would say that people are generally more conscious about their smile now — and, rightfully so, because a great smile can boost self-confidence by miles. Parents being parents would always want the best for their kids, and it helps that orthodontic treatments like braces and Invisalign are becoming more affordable than ever.
Is there a minimum age for teeth straightening?
The short answer is: no. There’s really no specific age to get started with braces or Invisalign although it does vary from case to case. Kids as young as seven years old can be assessed. With young patients, I would look at the early loss of teeth, the type and severity of crookedness, and soft tissue habits like thumb sucking and tongue thrusting. Depending on the results, early treatment can be designed as stage one of a two-stage orthodontic treatment plan — think of it as laying the groundwork to simplify or facilitate stage two, which is straightening with braces or Invisalign.
What type of ground work do you mean?
This stage of the treatment is meant to improve the jaw position or prepare the jaw for erupting adult teeth. For instance, in cases where the child’s jaw position is not ideal, we can utilise their growth spurt to encourage proper jaw development. If this is not managed well at an early age, especially for children with underbite (where the bottom teeth protrude more than the top), it could develop to a point where surgical correction is required. For young patients who are still growing, this is important for both their orthodontic health, and to make any future teeth-straightening procedures easier.
What about wisdom teeth? Would they mess up straightened teeth?
The jury’s still out on that! Whether wisdom teeth can cause overcrowding remains a heated debate among dentists. What I can say, is that wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt and their position — and impact — is difficult to predict. In some cases, wisdom teeth are removed as part of the orthodontic treatment plan; in other cases, they must be removed because they can potentially damage neighbouring teeth. So, rather than waiting and watching, I would advise my patients to proceed with their teeth-straightening plans. Because, at the end of the day, the most important factor in preventing the relapse of crooked teeth is to stick to the retention plan that your dentist recommends.
Ok, so is braces or Invisalign better for young patients?
Rather than saying that one is better than the other, it’s really a matter of which is more suitable. And this comes down to a number of factors, like the complexity of the case, treatment time and how they stack up in terms of cost, aesthetics, comfort and hygiene. Invisalign tends to be popular with young patients because it is generally less painful than traditional metal braces, requires fewer trips to the dentist and gives them to freedom to eat whatever they want. It’s also nearly invisible, which can make a huge difference to image-conscious teenagers. On the other hand, braces are more affordable, and some young patients do enjoy the idea of customising their brackets with coloured bands. For the undecided, taking this quiz might help.
Dr Elstan Lim is a certified Invisalign Platinum provider. He enjoys all aspects of dentistry, but is particularly passionate about aesthetic dentistry, implantology, and prosthodontics.