Girl with braces smiling

Does Your Child Need Braces?

words by Liza Finlay

As your little ones get older, their bodies are constantly growing through the childhood stages and into their teen years. With all of those changes, your child’s mouth is an important one that you should pay special attention to. Millions of American youths have donned one form of braces or another. But, does your child, or you for that matter, really understand the cycle of braces—knowing when and if your child needs them, how to care for them and how to reassure the nervous ones. What you need is to sit down with your orthodontist and allow your child, and you, to hear some practical advice. And with that advice comes emotional support you both unknowingly need. Braces are a great responsibility, so let’s start from the beginning.

Tucker Griffin Barnes Law

Does My Child Really Need Braces?

It seems to me kids are getting braces earlier and earlier. Is it just a cash grab?

You’re wise to be cautious about agreeing to any pricey service, whether it’s a brake job for your car or braces for your child. But mostly, we’re seeing younger children in braces simply because of what orthodontists have learned about treatment since we were kids in headgear.

Kids with suspected tooth troubles will be referred to an ortho around their seventh birthday. That’s when most kids have all their primary (“baby”) teeth and adult teeth begin their descent—giving orthodontists a clear window into what’s happening, and what will happen, in the mouth. If you haven’t already discussed it, ask your child’s dentist if any ortho visit is necessary.

That first visit shouldn’t cost anything, since most orthodontists don’t charge for consultations. They look for two things: tooth crowding and jaw misalignment (either severe overbite, where top teeth extend way beyond the bottom teeth, or under bite, which is the opposite).

Early intervention can make it easier to fix both issues: Young children have softer, more malleable bones, so their jaws are more readily encouraged to move or grow in a more ideal shape. And because younger kids grow faster, treatment takes less time. Early intervention can also prevent crowding down the road. For example, a six-year adult molar normally erupts right behind a baby second molar. If your child loses that baby molar early, the adult molar may drift forward, severely crowding adult teeth that emerge. By moving that adult molar back into its ideal position early, you can avoid having to pull it out later on and possibly avoid further orthodontic work.

Will I be able to tell if my child needs her teeth fixed?

You can definitely keep your eyes open for signs of possible problems. Your child’s 20 primary teeth should be in by the time she’s about age 3. Permanent teeth begin to pop out between ages 6 and 9, beginning with the front teeth and the back molars. Why those teeth? They’re the biggest and need lots of room. You and your dentist can watch to ensure that adult teeth are growing in according to plan and that there’s enough room for them.

How to Choose an Orthodontist

How do I choose an orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a dentist who’s had two years of additional training to become licensed in his specialized field, and will have “Dip. Ortho” (Diplomate in Orthodontics) after his name. If the diploma isn’t displayed in his office, you can ask to see it. Because technology is constantly advancing, you also want a doctor who’s on top of the latest research, so ask what kind of training he continues to get. Then, ask for referrals: Have previous patients been happy with their level of care and experience? You might even want to look at before and after photos; most orthodontists have them. Finally, be sure to visit the office with your child. Is the staff welcoming? Does the doctor “get” kids? Your child will be spending up to 24 months with the ortho you choose, so make sure the relationship is a solid one.

Yes, your child may be more comfortable with her regular dentist, but you don’t want to sacrifice experience for comfort.

What about just having my child’s dentist do the work?

Your dentist may also be qualified to straighten teeth, but be sure to check. Ask how often he puts braces on kids. One patient a year? One a week? Yes, your child may be more comfortable with her regular dentist, but you don’t want to sacrifice experience for comfort.

Charlottesville Orthodontics

Does My Child Really Need Straight Teeth?

How important is it for my kid to have straight teeth, really?

Straight teeth don’t just look nice, they help a child chew better and speak more clearly. Braces can also be used to bring impacted teeth out of the jaw where they’re stuck, avoiding surgery down the road. Straight teeth can boost self-esteem too; many adults get braces because they’re embarrassed about their smiles.

How Much Should Braces Cost?

How much should I expect to pay?

The cost depends on how much work has to be done. A patient who needs a simple retainer and four months of treatment will pay less than one who needs full upper and lower braces for two years. But generally speaking, fees range anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000.

Keep in mind, too, that there isn’t an orthodontist on the planet who expects to be paid all at once. They’ll usually ask for 10 to 25 percent of the total fee up front, followed by monthly, or even quarterly installments. So a $5,000 treatment might break down into an initial payment of $1,000, followed by 24 monthly payments of about $165 each.

How to Reassure a Nervous Child About Braces

What can I say to reassure my nervous child?

Today’s braces are more comfortable than the ones mom or dad might have worn, plus they’re more efficient, meaning your daughter will get faster results. While you may have had to bear up for three years, she’ll likely be finished in two. She’ll also have to endure fewer visits to the orthodontist—wires in her braces will need tightening and adjusting only once every eight to 12 weeks, compared with three or four.

If your daughter’s vanity is at stake, she can choose clear, plastic braces, which work just as well as metal, but are less conspicuous. If she’s older, there’s a chance your child won’t even need a set of “train tracks.” Invisalign Teen consists of one or two clear, nearly invisible trays she can remove temporarily for cleaning or for a first date. Yet, they work as well as traditional, non-removable braces. There’s no harm is asking your orthodontist about Invisalign for your child.

How to Take Care of Braces

I know there are certain foods to avoid eating with braces, but what about eating healthy. What are some recommendations?

Minimize sugary or starchy foods and drinks, keeping it to just one per day. Examples include cake, ice cream, cookies, pie, soft candy, pretzels, crackers, lollipops and more. For drinks, limit soda, sweetened tea, sports and energy drinks, Kool-Aid, vitamin water, lemonade and more.

The hard fast rule about foods to avoid breaking your braces is anything that you need to bite into to eat. You can get around this by cutting the food, such as corn off the cob or rib meat off the bone, or slicing apples and chopping vegetables into small, bite-size pieces. After having your braces tightened, you may also experience problems with your teeth feeling sore. During the first few days after getting your braces on or having them tightened, try eating foods that are softer or liquid based until the soreness passes.


LIZA FINLAY is a Toronto writer and mother of two. Visit her at, a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as Virginia Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings.