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For Immediate Release

Contact: Richard T. Koenig
Phone: 202-547-7613
Fax: 202-546-1482

Why Start Braces So Young?

In recent years, a commonly asked question from parents concerning orthodontic care is, Awhy start braces so early" Parents remember having braces when they were a teenager, usually between 13 and 16 years old. They remember the three or four years of care and looking forward to the day when the Abraces@ came off.

It is quite common now to begin orthodontic care between the ages of seven and ten. Treatment at this age allows an orthodontist to correct skeletal and nonskeletal problems. This is referred to as phase one or the first stage of treatment. In this phase an orthodontist will attempt to correct skeletal discrepancies or tooth alignment problems. The goal of phase one treatment of a skeletal problem is to correct the problem and align the jaws to allow for a harmonious jaw relationship and a favorable growth pattern of permanent teeth. There are several advantages to begin orthodontic treatment at an early age," explains Dr. Stephen Tigani of the D.C. Dental Society Public Relations Committee. The main reason is to take advantage of the growth of the child to either correct a skeletal or dental problem. Another reason may be to correct a problem that is relatively minor at a young age, but may worsen as the child continues to grow."

By starting at an early age, the child's natural growth is used to the advantage of the orthodontist. If there is a jaw discrepancy, the ideal solution is to modify growth by various orthodontic techniques. Jaw discrepancies may include a variety of different problems. For example, the upper jaw is too large in comparison to the lower jaw or the upper jaw may be too narrow for the lower jaw. There are a variety of techniques available to modify growth.

These techniques can be more successful if used at a younger age, specifically between the ages of seven and ten. During this time before puberty, there is a rapid period of growth during which much modification can take place. It has been found that these techniques do not work in adults and have limited success in adolescents.

By the age of 14, a young woman has completed 90% of her lifetime growth. A young man's growth continues into his later teens, although his final growth spurt may occur between 15 and 17 years old," explained Dr. Tigani. ASo most growth has occurred for a young woman by age 14 and for a young man by age 16."

Another advantage to early orthodontic care is to attempt to correct misaligned permanent teeth while the child is still growing. Moving teeth through growing bone may allow for a decrease in treatment time and a probable more stable result. Problems addressed in phase one treatment include excess overjet (how far the top and bottom teeth protrude from each other), excess overbite (how much the top teeth cover the bottom teeth), crossbites, crowding, space maintenance for missing teeth, open bites, missing permanent teeth, extra teeth, midline discrepancy and habits.

Techniques used to correct such problems include braces, retainers or functional appliances. Different techniques are used for each problem. Braces may be used to move teeth in almost any direction. Retainers can also move teeth, but have certain limitations. Specifically, they can tip and rotate teeth to a limited degree but do not move roots. Functional appliances have other limitations but can influence bone growth.

Of course cost is always a concern with today=s families. The cost of early treatment is considerably less than comprehensive treatment later. Treatment at an early age may correct a problem so that braces will not be needed or needed only for a limited time in the future.

Orthodontic treatment has improved over the years and new technology has allowed treatment to be faster, considerably more comfortable and less costly. With the philosophical change in the approach to treatment, an orthodontist may modify growth and correct dental problems in a young child that would otherwise be impossible in an older adolescent or adult. Phase one treatment is an excellent method of obtaining at beautiful, healthy smile for a child that will last a lifetime. For more information on orthodontics or for a dental referral contact the D.C. Dental Society at (202) 547-7613.

For more information about oral health issues, visit www.dcdental.org and the American Dental Association Web site at www.ada.org.