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Bracing yourself for bracing your kids

Education, Fraser Valley, Health, Lower Mainland, Okanagan, Parenting, Vancouver Island
9 min read
Child getting braces

As an orthodontist, I often come across two types of parents: one who assumes their kid’s experience will be the same as theirs and another type of parent who doesn’t have the experience or knowledge they need to get the process started.

No matter where you stand, I hope to ease your questions and concerns about bracing your kids by delineating what an orthodontist is, what we do, and answer some of the questions I get asked most by parents:

  • How are orthodontists and dentists different?
  • Should I wait to visit an orthodontist until I am referred to one by my dentist?
  • How do I know when to set up an appointment?
  • At what age should I bring my children into the orthodontist?

Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics is a specialized branch of dentistry that treats irregularities in teeth and jaw position. Orthodontists use traditional braces, clear aligners and other appliances to help make teeth move, then use retainers to hold teeth in position.

The journey to become an orthodontist starts right after graduation from an accredited dental school. It takes getting into a highly competitive two- to three-year residency program until orthodontists are ready to twist, push, pull, shift and turn teeth, among other things. It takes years of studying how to carefully orient teeth and jaws to make the mouth look the way it should. We complete school with a unique distinction and mission for every patient and want everyone to be proud not only of their smile but have a smile that is functional and healthy. As orthodontists, we have the know-how and expertise to transform the way people view their mouths through a growing number of technologies and innovative orthodontic practices.

It might be Hollywood stereotypes, or maybe parents harkening back to their teenage days when their mouths were full of hardware, but children often see an orthodontist much later than we recommend. Both the Canadian and American Associations of Orthodontists recommend parents bring their kids to see an orthodontist by age 7—but why age 7? 

At this age, your child is in a mixed dentition stage, which means they have both baby and adult teeth. Their front adult teeth and first molars will have erupted, establishing a back bite and allowing the orthodontist to identify a possible overbite, underbite or any other issues.  Orthodontists that treat patients who are growing also have the ability to take advantage of that growth to affect teeth and jaw positions.  

Having your kids see an orthodontist at the right time could help identify any problems that may affect your child’s health and function early on. Secondarily, it could also save you time and money. An early orthodontic appointment will give your orthodontist time to spot current and incoming problems for children and allow them to plan appropriately. Once permanent teeth have arrived, or if a patient has passed a certain period of growth, it can potentially take more time to treat a patient. Take your child’s oral care into your own hands and don’t wait for a referral from your dentist, because a referral isn’t needed to see an orthodontist.

Seeing an orthodontist should be another childhood first, equivalent to that first haircut or parent-teacher conference. It’s another important first that a lot of parents don’t know they’re missing!

Early Oral Problems

Orthodontics make smiles look nice—yes, but it also has serious health benefits. Crooked or crowded teeth can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and even tooth loss. That’s because overlapping teeth can be tough to clean. A bad bite can also cause problems when chewing and talking, not to mention too much wear, grinding, and clenching.

A misaligned jaw or teeth can interfere with how your children eat, sleep and speak. The discomfort can be draining on anyone, especially kids.

Once these issues are identified, your orthodontist will decide the best method for fixing the smile.

These are some of the issues we look for in 7-year-old patients:

  • Crowding—Extraction of some baby or adult teeth can improve or help guide the eruption of adult teeth.  
  • Overbites and underbites—These bite problems can cause the gums to recede on the front teeth if left untreated. 
  • Narrow upper jaw or posterior crossbite—Some studies have shown that a narrow upper jaw can cause uneven jaw growth if preventative measures aren’t taken early on. More recent studies have shown that expanding the upper jaw can improve the airway.  
  • Impacted teeth—If left unmanaged, impacted teeth can cause damage to the roots of adjacent teeth
  • Upper and Lower Jaw relationships—Can be managed with appliances and could potentially minimize the need for surgery later on in life.  
  • Oral habits—Harmful oral habits like thumb sucking can cause a bad bite and a narrow upper jaw.
  • Improve Appearance—Orthodontic treatment has shown to have a psychological and social benefit. Beyond orthodontics’ immediate remedies for mouth health, research shows that it can help with self-perceptions and quality of life for your children.

Orthodontics has come a long way since stainless steel brackets and wires were first introduced in 1927. Many kids are still getting traditional braces as they are still one of the most predictable methods for correcting teeth. Porcelain and ceramic tooth-colored brackets were introduced in the 1970s, making “brace-face” a term of the past. In 1999, clear aligners made their debut. Clear aligners are transparent molds that are nearly invisible in the mouth and are a popular alternative to traditional braces. New technologies, practices and treatments are making perfect smiles much more achievable and accessible; however, more important than the technology is the specialist behind it. We’ve trained for years to understand the complexity of the mouth in a comprehensive way so that our patients have a great experience. Our specialist knowledge coupled with the advancing technology of orthodontics will give your child a healthy and beautiful smile.

Parents make the difference

The majority of a child’s oral health is in the hands of their parents.

Being proactive about long-term oral health means teaching proper habits that kids can follow throughout their lives. Parents who teach good habits at home will help kids to remain in good health as they grow up. Your dentist and orthodontist can work with you to help your children learn the best cleaning techniques and ways to maintain healthy teeth and habits.

With or without a referral from your dentist, seeing an orthodontist can help reemphasize habits that have already been introduced to your child by parents and dentist. Orthodontists can also recognize issues in the mouth that you or your dentist may not recognize. During your child’s first consultation with an orthodontist, photographs and X-rays may be taken followed by a detailed analysis of your child’s bite.  At that appointment, the orthodontist can recommend what treatment option is best for your child and their long-term health.  And as hard as it may be to believe, sometimes no treatment is recommended.  

To find a local certified orthodontist in your area, visit www.bcortho.ca or www.findanortho.ca.

When to a schedule an orthodontic exam with a certified orthodontic specialist:

  • Early or late loss of baby teeth
  • Difficulty in chewing or biting
  • Mouth breathing
  • Thumb sucking
  • Crowding, misplaced or blocked-out teeth
  • Jaws that shift or make sounds
  • Speech difficulties
  • Biting the cheek or the roof of the mouth
  • Teeth that meet abnormally, or don’t meet at all
  • Facial imbalance
  • Jaws that are too far forward or back
  • Grinding or clenching of the teeth


Dr. Frederick Cheung has been practicing orthodontics for 7 years and his primary practice is at Monarch Orthodontic Centre – Surrey in Guildford. He is currently an executive member of the British Columbia Society of Orthodontists (BCSO). BCSO is committed to educating the public about the benefits of orthodontic treatment and is the voice for all orthodontists in BC.  To learn more about the BCSO or to find an orthodontist in your area, please visit www.bcortho.ca.

Featured Orthodontists

PacificWest Dental Group
Vancouver, 604/558-0993
Surrey, 604/501-0993
An orthodontic practice serving Vancouver and Surrey, PacificWest Dental thrives on helping patients resolve their dental alignment issues to achieve their perfect smile. We help our patients enjoy long term oral health benefits through the use of braces and Invisalign.

Monarch Orthodontic Centre
Burnaby, 604/434-9060
Monarch Orthodontic Centre is committed to providing a friendly environment throughout orthodontic treatment so that our patients can enjoy the long-term benefits of this rewarding experience. Additional locations include Port Moody, Surrey, and Vancouver. 

Vancouver Orthodontics
Vancouver, 604/629-0452
The Vancouver Orthodontics team welcomes you to our practice! We provide a comprehensive range of orthodontic treatment options, including multiple braces options and Invisalign®, all in a friendly, cheerful atmosphere.

Guildford Orthodontic Centre

Surrey, 604/589-2212
Our Practice Philosophy: Faces, Not Braces! We dedicate our time and energy towards providing you with excellence in orthodontic care. We believe that excellence in orthodontic care involves informed patients experiencing quality orthodontic treatment in a warm friendly surrounding.

Ridge Meadows Orthodontics
Maple Ridge, 604/463-1125
Visiting the orthodontist can make some patients feel anxious, especially our younger ones. Our whole practice is designed with our patients’ comfort in mind. We want you to feel as happy and relaxed as possible, and to feel truly at home when you’re with us.

Langley Orthodontics
Langley, 604/533-6696
Creating facial balance and harmony between soft and hard tissue is always our end goal, both for the sake of our patient’s appearance and comfort. The Langley Orthodontics team will guide you each step of the way on the journey to your perfect smile.

Coquitlam Family Orthodontics
Coquitlam, 604/949-0654
We are committed to delivering excellent, high-quality orthodontic treatment to each patient. Our treatment methods are always up to date and progressive because we want to provide you with the best care available.

Austin Heights Orthodontics
Coquitlam, 604/936-4225
Orthodontist Dr. Suzuki and his team take the responsibility to consistently exceed your expectations very seriously. Their success is based on the relationships built with their patients and referral sources. We are grateful for the opportunity to include you in our patient family.

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