Bracing for braces

Short stuff: Health roundup
Lots of kids need braces—that’s no secret.

It’s also no secret that your experience at the orthodontist might conjure some not-no-comforting memories (head gear ring a bell?).

But advances in orthodontic practices and equipment have moved braces forward. Dr. David Allen, a practicing orthodontic specialist in Wheaton, says that while completely pain-free orthodontics might not exist, modern changes have reduced overall pain and even the amount of time most people need to wear braces.

“We can do a lot of things we just couldn’t do in the past,” he says.

The key seems to be early evaluations.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children get a check-up with an orthodontic specialist no later than age 7.

The distinction of a specialist is particularly important in Illinois, where any dentist can do braces, says Allen.

“Research is constant in this field,” he says,"so be proactive in terms of finding the specialist who’s going to be up on the advancements.”

While teeth can be moved at almost any age, Allen says the earlier your child is seen, the easier it will be for a specialist to track whether he or she will need braces—and how they’ll be most effective.

“There are the obvious ones—kids with visibly crooked teeth and a clear need for correction,” says Allen."But there are kids who smile and don’t seem like they need braces. Their teeth look straight but the underlying problems are less obvious.”

Bringing your child in at a younger age can eliminate the need for oral surgery or painful tooth extractions that might be needed later to adjust the jaw so the teeth and bite align correctly.

Allen says that today’s braces are much less intrusive as well. Glued-on braces save space in the mouth, are less invasive and don’t need to be on as long. Other options, like ceramic braces (more common for adults due to their tooth-colored quality) and the innovative Damon Bracket System, which uses tieless braces, can move teeth faster and less painfully.

It’s important that general dentists and orthodontic specialists work together, says Allen, who practiced as a dentist for nine years before getting his orthodontic specialty. He urges parents to ask their kids’ dentists about potential orthodontic needs early on.

Allen lists four important areas to cover.

“Ask about what type of treatment your child will need to have a healthy mouth and smile for a lifetime; ask what types of brace systems the orthodontist uses; ask what kind of appliances they use and how long your child will need to use them; and finally, ask how often you’re going to have to come in for visits with the different systems.”

The parents’ role in the braces process is a critical one. Knowing the right information can help you keep down the discomfort and duration of your child’s braces experience.

Maayan S. Heller is a freelance writer living in Chicago who covers issues in health, women’s health and fitness.

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