Few words strike more fear in the pocketbooks of parents than the word "orthodontia." Notoriously time-consuming, often uncomfortable, and definitely expensive, orthodontic treatment is a rite of passage in early adolescence for many kids. But whether your child needs braces - or any orthodontic treatment - varies child to child.
I had braces. My husband had braces. I assumed my kids would need braces, even as I rather dreaded the possibility. Alfs, as it turned out, has only needed a palette expander so far (managed nicely by our dentist) and his teeth are looking good. Knock wood, and all that. I hadn't considered that Woody was quite that age of consideration yet, but after we realized he needed oral surgery for another issue, and the oral surgeon didn't want to proceed until we had an orthodontic plan in place, we were thrust into orthodontia quite quickly.
So how do you know whether your child will need braces and to what extent? And what is the purpose of braces to begin with?
Why bother with braces?
Orthodontics are not strictly for aesthetic purposes. Correcting off bites and crowded teeth, for example, can head off later problems such as uneven tooth wear and weakness, jaw pain, and other issues. While childhood and adolescence are the typical times to get braces, orthodontic treatment can be put off into adulthood, but the process is often less invasive and quicker if done young.
Talk to your dentist
First things first, talk to your child's dentist and hygienist. These are the people who can give you a preliminary idea of any alignment, bite or crowding issues. Ask them about issues they are seeing now, and what they think might be coming. Ask them straight out if they think your child might need braces.
Your dentist may have recommendations for orthodontists in your area and is certainly a good resource. Ask the hygienist separately for her recommendation - she may hear different things from patients about orthodontists due to her different role in the dentist's office. Our hygienist knew, for example, that one orthodontist in town tended to be more expensive than another for the same type of work. That was really good to know.
Ask friends and neighbors who they use, who they have heard of. Call your local dental board to ask about anything in the orthodontist's file.
A consult is not a commitment
When you have narrowed down a first choice, call to make an appointment for a consultation. This should be a time to talk about possibilities, options, and time-frames. How the orthodontist treats you and your child at this time is an indication of your relationship going forward - because you'll be spending a lot of time together make sure you feel comfortable. Good technician or not, no one wants to feel like they are being looked at with dollar signs first, their child's care and comfort second.
You do not have to make a commitment to any treatment plan at time of consultation. It's likely to be expensive, so taking the time to think about the recommendations and make some fiscal plans is completely appropriate.
How to pay for it
Paying for braces can be the trickiest part of all. While some dental plans cover orthodontia, they rarely cover it in whole. Many orthodontic offices offer payment plans and other financing options; I distinctly remember my mother handing my orthodontist (dear, sweet Dr. Payne - I'm not kidding!) a check at each of my monthly check-ins.
Whether or not your child will need orthodontic treatment of some kind is a question for a dental professional. Being prepared for the process - or just steeling yourself for potential sticker shock - can help you see your way to your child's beautiful and straight smile on the other end.