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8 signs your child may need braces

Dr Rakesh Jivan

Sign #1: They lost baby teeth early

A young girl with braces smiles at her phone while wearing headphones
A young girl with braces smiles at her phone while wearing headphones

One of the most common concerns parents have when visiting their dentist is whether their child will require braces.

The first and most important thing to remember is that every child is different, which is why it’s so important to ensure your children visit the dentist regularly to check on their development and make sure any problems in the mouth are picked up early.

Generally speaking, orthodontic treatment starts between the ages of nine to 12 years old, although, it’s not uncommon for treatment to start slightly earlier or later.

So what are some of the reasons your child may need braces? There’s a number of factors, including your child’s oral and physical development. Here are eight signs that orthodontics might be an effective treatment for your child.

1. They lost baby teeth early

If you notice your child losing their baby teeth too early or losing baby teeth as a result of tooth decay, they may need braces to prevent the remaining teeth from moving or tipping into the empty spaces while the adult teeth are still growing. Braces can help to hold these spaces open so that development can continue normally.

2. They have a misaligned jaw position

Having a jaw that doesn’t match up correctly can cause overbites, underbites and crossbites. When your child’s teeth don’t line up properly, it can make it difficult for them to chew, swallow or speak. Catching this early can help with planning for treatment.

3. They have crowded (or crooked) teeth

When there isn’t enough space in the mouth, your child’s teeth can overlap or develop too close together; this is known as crowding. While your child may not require braces immediately, it does mean that their oral development needs to be more closely monitored by the dentist.

Crowding can cause problems like uncomfortable chewing or biting, lisps, mouth breathing and irregular teeth alignment. It can even prevent your child from brushing and flossing properly, leading to an excess of plaque in your child’s mouth and a higher risk of tooth decay. Braces can fix this problem by straightening out the teeth and putting them in the proper position.

4. They have spaces (or gaps)

It’s perfectly normal for young children to have wide gaps between their baby (primary) teeth, simply because these teeth are generally smaller than permanent ones. However, if large spaces remain after the adult teeth have come through, braces might be recommended to close the gaps - especially if there are problems with speech, food trapping or appearances.

A group of women in the bathroom chatting as one flosses

5. They have prolonged thumb or dummy sucking

Most parents can attest that thumb or dummy sucking can be soothing for their baby or toddler. However, if this habit continues after the adult teeth begin to erupt in your child’s mouth, it can change the shape of the jaw. This can lead to the front teeth protruding outward and can also cause issues with speech, such as lisping, difficulty swallowing or mouth breathing.

Most children grow out of the habit of thumb or dummy sucking when they’re between two and four years old, but if it continues during the growth of the adult teeth, orthodontic treatment may be required.

5. They’re mouth breathing

Children who breathe through their mouth during the day or night will have their mouth open for the majority of time to let air in. This can affect the appearance of their face and the growth of their teeth. Because their tongue is not able to sit on the roof of their mouth, your child can develop a longer face with narrow jaws. This creates a smaller amount of space for adult teeth to grow, which may result in the need for an assessment by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to check for issues with tonsils, adenoids and the airway. The ENT specialist may also recommend braces to correct jaw problems.

6. They have difficulty chewing

Misaligned teeth can negatively impact your child’s ability to eat comfortably. If they’re having difficulty eating or are often biting their tongue or insides of their cheeks, it could be because their bite is off or their teeth are crooked.

7. They have mouth or jaw pain

We can’t always see orthodontic problems — sometimes, your child may only feel the problem. If your child is experiencing mouth or jaw pain regularly, there may be an underlying orthodontic reason, so it’s important to see your dentist regularly to determine what’s causing their discomfort.

8. They have problems with speech

Many things can cause speech problems, but sometimes it’s just a matter of misaligned teeth. If your child is having difficulty saying certain words or generally struggling with speech, it could be time to see your dentist or orthodontist, along with a speech pathologist.

Ready to book an appointment with a dentist?

A great place to begin is with your local nib Dental Care Centre which has 11 locations across NSW, ACT, VIC and QLD.

Alternatively, you can search for a dentist near you through nib's First Choice Network. This is a community of health providers who’ve agreed to provide nib members with quality healthcare. We recommend you and your family visit your dentist every six months for a check-up and more regularly if you have a concern.

Dr Rakesh Jivan

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Dr Rakesh Jivan smiling

Dr Rakesh Jivan

Dr Rakesh Jivan is a general dental practitioner with close to two decades of clinical experience in private practice. He is the clinical director for education at Pacific Smiles Group responsible for practitioner support and continuing professional development for all practitioners working from Pacific Smiles Dental & nib Dental Care Centres in NSW, VIC, QLD & the ACT.