Many of us had braces when we were young. This isn’t all that surprising. Today, it is estimated that over four million people in the United States have braces, and approximately 75% of them are children and teens. A child may need braces for various reasons, including crooked teeth, overlapping teeth, or overcrowding in their mouth. A bad bite, also known as a malocclusion, is another reason dentists may refer kids for braces. It is recommended that children have an early orthodontic evaluation around age seven, but there are also indicators parents can look for to tell whether or not braces might be in their child’s future.

Will your child need braces?

Many parents ask themselves if their child needs braces. Being prepared in advance can help you manage your child’s expectations, not to mention any out-of-pocket expenses that may exist after your insurance coverage. But what should parents be on the lookout for?

1. Your child loses their teeth early.

Most kids lose their teeth between the ages of six and eight, beginning with their top and bottom incisors. Next, they’ll lose their canine teeth, and eventually their molars by age nine to twelve. The last to come out are the second molars. In most cases, girls will lose their teeth a bit sooner than boys. However, if your child starts to lose their teeth before age four, especially if it is not due to some sort of dental trauma, this might cause concern.

When kids lose their baby teeth early, chances are their permanent teeth aren’t quite ready to come in. This can leave gaps in their mouth, causing the adjacent teeth to shift in their mouths. Sometimes, the remaining teeth will shift so far into the gap left by the lost baby tooth that it can cause those permanent teeth to come in crooked, crowded, or in the wrong place. So, if your child has begun losing teeth around age four, it might be a good idea to check in with their pediatric dentist.

2. Your child doesn’t give up thumb-sucking after age two.

Thumb-sucking is normal in infants and toddlers as it provides a natural way to soothe them when anxious or tired. And, as a rule of thumb (pun intended), thumb sucking isn’t something parents should be overly concerned with until the permanent teeth begin to come in. Once those permanent teeth start to pop through the gumline, thumb-sucking can affect how your child’s new teeth will line up. It can lead to protruding front teeth, open bite, or a crossbite.

We recommend parents start to work with their children around age three to start nipping the habit in the bud. Ideally, thumb-sucking (and pacifier usage) should stop well before the child turns five. The Mayo Clinic has the following recommendations to help children stop sucking their thumbs.

  • Use positive reinforcement when they are not engaged in thumb-sucking.
  • Identify the triggers that lead to thumb-sucking, and work to eliminate those triggers or redirect your child to a more suitable comfort mechanism (such as cuddling with a stuffed animal or a favorite blanket).
  • Gently remind your child to stop sucking their thumb when you catch them in the act.

3. Mouth breathing can influence crooked teeth.

Have you ever snuggled with your child at bedtime to watch them fall asleep? Of course, you have! But, have you ever paid attention to how your child is breathing as they fall asleep or even when they are happy and at play?

Breathing through the nose helps the lungs be more efficient when absorbing oxygen. Nose breathing also helps activate the lower part of the lungs, helping the body operate more efficiently. Mouth breathing, on the other hand, makes it harder to get in as much oxygen. But aside from keeping your child’s body from running as efficiently as possible, mouth breathing can also negatively affect their teeth.

  • Mouth breathing dries up the mouth—saliva is critical to helping rid your child’s mouth of food particles.
  • Mouth breathing is stressful for the jaw and can lead to TMJ, misalignment of the teeth, and tooth grinding.
  • Chronic mouth breathing is also a leading cause of bad breath (halitosis).

Proper oral posture is when your child closes their mouth with the teeth touching and lips closed. The tongue should rest gently on the roof of the mouth, and breathing should occur primarily through the nose. The only time your child should have to breathe through their mouth is during strenuous exercise or if their nose is blocked due to allergies, a cold, the flu, or other congestion.

However, signs of your child breathing through their mouth are only sometimes apparent. Be on the lookout for the following concerning behaviors.

  • Your child snores loudly or grinds their teeth when they sleep.
  • They seem excessively fatigued during the day.
  • They are having trouble concentrating at school.
  • They are wetting the bed after six years of age.

Schedule your child for an early orthodontic evaluation around age seven.

At We Make Kids Smile, we recommend that all kids have an early orthodontic evaluation around the age of seven. During the evaluation, we can look for crossbites, overbites, and crowding, all common signs that your child might need braces or orthodontics. Request an appointment with us today so we can identify those early oral health problems and get your child the pediatric dental care they need. We look forward to seeing you and your child soon.

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