When we hear the word “orthodontics,” many of us immediately think braces. But an orthodontist can function as a trusted guide and an important part of oral healthcare as a child’s face and jaws are growing and developing. When teeth are well-positioned, everything from chewing, to speaking, to smiling is easier. As our August Expert, Dr. Diana Almy, a board-certified orthodontist who has served the Fredericksburg area since 2005 at Fredericksburg Orthodontics & Invisalign Center, shares tips for parents who may be wondering if their child is approaching the age when an orthodontic consultation would make sense.
At what age should a child see an orthodontist?
Dr. Almy: The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children receive a screening from an orthodontist by age 7. This is what I recommend, as well. By this point, a child’s 6-year molars are erupted, front teeth are coming in and we have a good sense of the size of a child’s adult teeth. When we look at the mouth at this age, we can get a good idea of whether there is any jaw malalignment, or other issues we may want to treat early, such as a crossbite or an underbite. Some of these issues will benefit from a two-phased approach, where we do one phase at an earlier age, and then another at age 11 or 12, once permanent teeth are in. This can help us build a healthier base for new teeth coming in. Most kids won’t need that two-phased approach, but seeing them early can still help us. We can monitor their growth and sometimes make recommendations back to the dentist for baby tooth extraction that may eliminate the need for certain treatments down the road.
What is the experience like for younger children coming to Fredericksburg Orthodontics?
Dr. Almy: These early visits are complimentary at Fredericksburg Orthodontics, and over the years we have learned that many children are actually excited to make their first visit to the orthodontist—especially if they have friends or an older sibling who has had braces. Most children who come in at 7 or 8 don’t need braces yet, and despite what parents may be feeling, kids sometimes see this as kind of a bummer—they are excited for the “cool factor,” and experiencing this common part of growing up. For these children, we have our Kids Club. They’ll come in for regular complimentary consultations where we monitor their growth. We start building a relationship with the family, the child and getting them excited about coming in. We even give them a fun tie-dye T-shirt and a lanyard to help them feel like part of our Fredericksburg Orthodontics family. When we have this relationship, we are able to make interventions when we spot the need for them, and this can ultimately result in less overall time in treatment and better outcomes.
Wait a minute—are you saying some kids actually want braces?
Dr. Almy: A lot of parents will say, “I can’t believe they want braces,” but this is really fairly normal. We have done a decent job in orthodontics of evolving our techniques so it isn’t as scary as some parents may remember. New materials and techniques are offering shorter treatment duration and unprecedented comfort. Brackets are smaller, sleeker and have smooth, rounded edges that reduce irritation to the inside of the cheeks. It’s become a gentler, easier process. If you remember the pain of separators and the rings on the back teeth—we aren’t using those anymore. Parents are often pleasantly surprised.
Fredericksburg Orthodontics is a Invisalign Diamond+ Provider. Is Invisalign available for children?
Dr. Almy: In most cases, if you can treat a problem with braces, you can also treat it with Invisalign. In very few cases am I telling patients that braces are the only option. Invisalign uses a custom-made series of clear aligners to straighten teeth, without the brackets and wires of braces. The two options achieve similar results—the choice for children often comes down to lifestyle. With Invisalign, you are taking something on and off, while braces are affixed, so you have to take care of them with brushing and cleaning and being careful about certain foods and candies. Invisalign aligners change out weekly, so if a teen or child loses one, it’s not nearly as big of a deal as losing a retainer. We talk families through the pros and cons and help them decide which treatment option is right for their child.
What do families like about working with Fredericksburg Orthodontics and Invisalign Center?
Dr. Almy: We really try to have a family-oriented approach. When you come in, you feel that welcoming from the front office, and both I and our treatment coordinator spend a lot of time explaining everything to families. People like that things are really spelled out, with the pros and cons of different treatment options, so that it’s not a one-size-fits-all treatment experience. Parents and adult patients appreciate that we offer flexible financing terms and try to make it affordable for everybody, whether you have insurance or not. We have in-house payment plans that carry no interest, and our down payments are reasonable.
Orthodontic treatment is a years-long process, and we try to be very considerate about how our treatment fits into our families’ lives. During the pandemic, we started offering virtual consultations and developed a system to give patients instructions for securely sending us photos of their teeth. We are continuing to offer virtual visits as an option as we move out of the pandemic. The portal pops right up if you visit our website at fredericksburgorthodontics.com.
But all patients should know that dental offices were and continue to be some of the safest places to be in terms of having low levels of disease transmission. Infection control has been a priority in all dental offices for decades, and getting into those dental and orthodontic visits is incredibly important for preventing tooth decay and identifying issues that need treatment.
For more information, visit fredericksburgorthodontics.com.