A smiling child wearing braces.
Dentists will start evaluating children for braces around the age of 7.

Braces for Kids: What Are the Different Types?

According to the American Association of Orthodontists, 3.9 million kids are seen for orthodontic braces each year. For many kids, dental braces become a rite of passage. Once they obtain their braces, they know that straight teeth and freedom from the awkwardness of adolescence is at the end of the tunnel. Not all kids need braces, but for some it is a necessity. In this article, we will dive into braces for kids: the different types, how to get them, and what they do.
What Are Braces?

Dental braces, also called orthodontic braces or simply “braces,” are corrective devices used to treat crowded or crooked teeth, or a jaw. Historically, braces referred to the wires and metal settings used in traditional orthodontics. However, the past decade brought exciting changes to orthodontic treatment, allowing for non-traditional methods.

What Do Braces Do?

Our mouths and our teeth are vital to our health and well-being. Despite how essential they are, teeth can still grow crooked, or the jaw can become misaligned. These alignment problems are caused by a variety of factors like thumb sucking, genetics, early or late tooth loss, or injury. If the teeth or jaw are not adequately aligned, it can cause problems such as:

  • Gum disease
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Severe wear and tear on enamel
  • Tooth loss
  • Tooth decay
  • Impaired speech
  • Jaw issues
  • Headaches

Braces are so much more than a way to create a better-looking smile; they can prevent a lifetime of dental problems and jaw pain.

Why Are Braces Used for Kids?

Pediatricians and pediatric dentists usually start to evaluate kids for braces at about the age of 7. Although braces are not typically applied until about 8 to 14 years old, health professionals begin assessing for any problems at the age of 7. If a pediatric dentist finds that a child might benefit from dental braces, they may refer the child to an orthodontist.

An orthodontist is a dentist with training in aligning teeth. The orthodontist will evaluate the child for treatment. Orthodontic treatment depends on determining the optimal time to apply braces. For the most part, braces are started when a child has gained adult teeth and lost a significant amount of baby teeth (primary teeth). The period of growth and development from ages 8 to 14 is often the best time to start treatment, and orthodontists like to take advantage of this time when a child’s teeth are open to manipulation but almost developed.

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Different Types of Orthodontic Corrective Devices

Kids and their parents now have a variety of devices to choose from, including traditional metal braces, lingual braces, ceramic braces, and Invisalign.

Traditional Metal Braces

Traditional metal braces are what comes to mind when most people think of braces. These braces consist of metal brackets attached to the front of the teeth with wires running through each bracket. These wires enable orthodontists to increase the tension in the wires, tightening the braces in the desired areas. The pressure from the wires and brackets are what slowly reposition teeth.

Lingual Braces

Lingual braces are made of metal, just like traditional braces. However, instead of attaching the brackets in the front of teeth (flush with the cheeks and lips), lingual braces are attached to the rear of the teeth (facing the tongue). Hidden away at the back, these braces are not as visible as the traditional ones. The disadvantages are that lingual braces:

  • May take longer to achieve their alignment settings
  • Can significantly impact speech and comfort
  • Are difficult to clean and maintain

Ceramic Braces

Ceramic braces are very much like traditional braces but are made of ceramic instead of metal. The ceramic material blends with the natural teeth color, making the braces much less noticeable. Just as effective as traditional braces, ceramic braces are an ideal choice for kids who are against the appearance of metal braces. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that ceramic braces need diligent cleaning due to staining and they may cost more than traditional braces.

Invisible Aligners and Invisalign

Clear, invisible aligners are a series of plastic trays molded to the shape(s) of a person’s teeth. The trays change progressively, with each tray adjusted to place pressure on specific areas, eventually moving teeth into their ideal placement. Clear, invisible aligners fit snugly around teeth and are difficult to detect when they are on.

Invisalign is a brand of an invisible aligner. It’s among the first to enter the marketplace and maintains a big following, both because of their effectiveness and Invisalign’s state-of-the-art materials. Many orthodontists now offer Invisalign treatments in their offices. When using Invisalign and other invisible aligners, it is important to know:

  • Some dental insurance may not cover clear invisible aligners
  • The price may be higher than traditional braces
  • Trays must be removed when eating, which can potentially lead to the loss of the aligners
  • Replacements may be costly

Braces for Kids

Whether getting braces for kids for health purposes or aesthetics, it is important to encourage good dental hygiene during the course of treatment. Poor hygiene may lead to cavities and tooth staining, creating permanent brace stains on teeth.

As for cost, many insurance plans cover part of the costs if a dentist or orthodontist recommends the work. In addition, many orthodontists offer payment plans to make the costs of braces more manageable. Obtaining braces is a financial investment, but one that will pay off through your kid’s health and self-esteem.