Getting braces is a classic milestone for teenagers, but not every child is prepared for this dental and aesthetic change. Not every parent is ready, either. From understanding why your child needs braces to knowing how to care for them, there is a lot for parents to learn. Let’s take a look at some of the most important points parents and children should know about having braces.

Why Do Children Need Braces?

There’s a wide variety of reasons a child could need braces. The primary reason is to improve the look of the teeth if they are crooked, overlapping, or overcrowded. The second most common reason for braces is an overbite, which is when the upper jaw is bigger than the lower jaw. An underbite, or when the lower jaw is larger, is a slightly less common reason for braces but it does apply to some kids. These tooth and jaw problems may have been caused by losing baby teeth too soon, accidents, habits like thumb sucking, or genetics. If you or one of your family members needed braces as a kid, your children will probably need them too.

Your child’s dentist will likely be the first to notice any tooth or jaw issues that require correction from braces. As dentistry is among the 10 most trusted and ethical professions in the United States, you should rely on the dentist’s advice and take your child to see an orthodontist. The orthodontist will then determine if your child truly does need braces and which devices will work best for them.

The age at which children typically start seeing an orthodontist varies greatly. Many orthodontists recommend that a child first sees them around age seven, but kids in their pre-teens and teens can go as well. Even adults can require orthodontic treatment.

What Is the Process of Getting Braces?

No matter what age a patient is, they likely won’t get braces right when they start seeing the orthodontist. Instead, the orthodontist will need to thoroughly examine the patient’s teeth, mouth, and jaw, take x-rays, make molds, and determine the right braces and devices for them. If your child is starting their orthodontic visits at a young age, you can rest easy knowing that they will likely have some time before they get the actual braces.

The exact process of getting braces will depend on your child’s needs. Some children need to have a pallet spreader first, which gradually widens the mouth to make room for the straightened teeth. Others may be able to skip the spreader and go right to braces, which correct alignment issues by putting steady pressure on teeth. This pressure eventually moves the teeth into a straighter position.

The majority of children need braces with brackets, wires, and rubber bands. The brackets are the parts that attach to the teeth and the wires and rubber bands connect them. Your orthodontist will tighten the wire bit by bit over time to help line the teeth up correctly.

With about 4 million Americans wearing braces today, there is a wide variety of options for how braces can look. Some people like to keep their braces in plain silver metal and others like to add colors in the brackets and rubber bands. Others choose clear or white ceramic braces that are much less noticeable or braces that go behind the teeth, known as lingual braces.

Using clear removable braces that move teeth with plastic trays called aligners is also an option for some people. The most well-known of this type is Invisalign, which adults often get when they want to straighten their teeth but don’t want the look or upkeep of traditional braces.

How Do You Care for Braces?

Caring for braces isn’t as difficult as it may seem. The biggest change your child will experience is being more vigilant about dental care and having to avoid certain foods. Food gets stuck very easily in wired braces, so your child will need to brush and floss regularly to ensure that no bits of food stay in their braces or teeth. The most damaging foods for braces-wearers are hard candy, sticky candy, gum, and popcorn. As sugary sodas and juices can contribute to tooth decay, kids with braces should also limit their consumption of those drinks.

Braces don’t cause long-term pain for most people, but your child may feel some discomfort once in a while, especially after their orthodontist makes adjustments. You can give your child over-the-counter pain relievers and feed them soft food to help ease the discomfort. If your child has a wire that is poking their mouth or a loose wire or bracket, see the orthodontist as soon as possible. The orthodontist can typically fix the problem, but if there are still sharp spots your child can use soft orthodontic wax to cover any areas that are rubbing uncomfortably against the inside of their mouth or gums.

With this helpful information, you can tackle the process of getting braces for your child. While they may be resistant to the process at first, they will appreciate your efforts once the braces come off and they have a perfect smile.