Research Supports Braces for 7-8 Year-Olds

By Ched Smaha, DMD MS

As a practicing orthodontist, a large amount of my time, both professional and personal is spent as a “resource” for all matters dental. I enjoy this role because I am passionate about delivering high-quality orthodontic care, which itself requires a populace with a high “oral health IQ.”

Over the course of my eight years in practice, I find one question that comes up frequently in casual conversation about orthodontics is, “Why does it seem that I see increasingly ‘younger’ children in braces? When I was a kid in the 80s (or 90s), everyone started orthodontics sometime around 7th or 8th grade.”

It’s a valid observation. There are statistically far more children beginning orthodontic treatment at an earlier age. Many of the people that have raised the question have wrongly assumed that this trend reflect an insincere motive within the dental industry. They implied a belief that orthodontists are taking advantage by treating younger and younger patients. However, the fact of the matter is that the advancements brought by the technological boom of the past three decades have revolutionized orthodontics. Along with three dimensional treatment planning, Invisilign®, and a greatly reduced length of treatment, the growth of early interceptive treatment is one of the most notable outcomes of this revolution.

The American Association of Orthodontists, learning from decades of research, advises that all children receive an orthodontic evaluation between ages 7 & 8. The reasoning behind its recommendation is of such significance, that most orthodontists in the U.S. provide this screening at no charge to the patient and will continue to do so every six months through this “observation phase”.

In the simplest of terms, the overall cost of any orthodontic treatment plan is based on the complexity of the issue needing to be fixed. And because our tissues are less flexible as we age, some treatments that require surgery in teens and adults can be fixed with the use of an appliance in younger children, as is the case with palatal expansion, which is the opening of the upper arc of teeth for a wider smile. Avoiding surgery makes everyone happy, as does the potential cost savings to the patient.

Along with the potential of minimizing the complexity of care, early evaluation can add the benefit of an overall shorter, more comfortable time in treatment. A shorter time in treatment translates, again, to a reduction in cost. So while it may strike one as odd to see an 8-year old in braces, this “phased” approach to orthodontics has evolved as a result of the imaging and treatment technologies that were still “science fiction” as recently as the 1990s.

You know the story that our parents always told us, “When I was your age, I had to walk six miles through two feet of snow to get to school every morning at 5 a.m.?” We should tell our kids about what we went through having braces when WE were their age.

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