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Orthodontic treatment done at a young age is often less costly than having to treat serious dental problems later in life. When and why you should consider braces for your child.

Braces can ensure an attractive smile. “Aesthetics is usually the main reason why parents take their children for orthodontic treatment,” says Dr Antoinette Ackerman, an orthodontist in Craighall Park, Joburg.

When teeth are crooked or crowded, keeping them clean becomes difficult. Braces move the teeth into the correct position, allowing for toothbrushes and floss to reach everywhere properly.

Braces can also prevent and fix an over-, cross- or underbite. If these are not fixed, it can cause wear on the teeth, lead to gum problems and a painful jaw and joints. It can also interfere with the proper chewing of food.

Braces can help the prevention of gum-related problems. If it’s difficult to clean your teeth, it’s more likely to enhance plaque and tartar formation. The more plaque and tartar you have, the greater your chance of developing gum disease.

“Orthodontic treatment improves function, such as the way you bite down,” says Ackerman. “Braces can help to establish better occluding teeth (the way our lower and upper teeth come together). The more normal the occlusion, the less wear and tear occurs,” says Ackerman.

Teeth are a key element in speech. Having crooked teeth can influence pronunciation.

Ackerman says braces can also help to fix protruding teeth, which are more prone to accidental trauma.

Read here for tips on brushing teeth

When is the right time?

“Around the age of seven years old, children should get an x-ray done to establish whether or not all their teeth are present and developing,” advises Ackerman. Treatment is usually only recommended later when most permanent teeth are out and the child is still growing. “Between the ages of 10 and 12 years old for girls and 12 to 14 years old for boys,” says Ackerman. However, children may need treatment sooner, for instance to correct a crossbite. Treatment lasts between one and two years. People undergoing orthodontic treatment need to be even more dedicated to oral hygiene. Ask your dentist to suggest the best treatment plan.

Types of braces available

Fitting braces is like fitting shoes, and depending on the problem area, your orthodontist will recommend the most effective treatment.

  • Plates: a simple, removable clear plate can be sufficient to correct minor orthodontic issues, such as gaps between the front teeth.
  • Stainless-steel braces: today you can personalise metal braces with different colours and shapes.
  • Tooth-coloured aesthetic braces or ceramic braces: with these braces, the brackets are transparent or tooth-coloured, though there’s still a metal wire that runs across the teeth, which is held in place with elastic bands.
  • Lingual braces: these are placed out of site on the backside of the teeth.
  • Invisible aligner trays: the aligners consist of a sequence of clear, removable trays that fit over the teeth. These are only recommended for moderate to minor orthodontic problems.

Marina Zietsman