Braces are a common thing for kids to get, and chances are your child’s dentist will suggest you get a consultation with an orthodontist at some point. (The American Association of Orthodontists suggests doing this before age 7.) But does your kid really need braces?
Often, by the time you get to the orthodontist’s office, the orthodontist will assume that you’re there because you are already interested in getting braces. The conversation may proceed from that assumption, so if you want to know whether your kid needs braces, make sure to say up front that this is your driving question.
You can also start this conversation with the regular dentist, since they’ll be familiar with your child’s teeth and should be able to give you good advice on what you might learn from an orthodontic consultation. Here are some questions to ask either or both of those professionals:
Ask about how the teeth function, not just how they look
Braces and other orthodontic treatments can be done for functional reasons, like making sure that your child’s teeth aren’t making it too difficult to chew their food or to speak clearly. And they can be done for cosmetic reasons, basically making the teeth look prettier. These interests often overlap, with straightening the teeth serving both purposes. So if you’re not concerned about the appearance of your child’s teeth, you’ll need to be specific that you are asking whether there are health or functionality concerns.
Ask about pros and cons
This question isn’t just for braces; it should be your guiding principle for any discussion with a healthcare provider. When you’re considering a treatment, ask:
- What are the benefits of doing this?
- What are the downsides?
- What will happen if we don’t do this?
- What are the alternatives?
If the answer to “what if he doesn’t get braces?” is “maybe his teeth will be a little bit crooked,” then you can make your own judgment call based on how crooked they are and how you and your child feel about that. On the other hand, if the answer is that your child may have breathing or swallowing problems, that may be a stronger reason to go ahead with braces.
Ask about results
I don’t just mean asking to see before-and-after photos of patients with similar starting points, although that can be helpful. Make sure to ask what is the range of possible outcomes from starting orthodontic treatment, and how likely each result is. Sometimes braces don’t fully fix the problem (especially if your kid doesn’t wear their retainer consistently). And success rates may vary depending on the types of appliances used, the age of your child, and other factors.
Ask about timing
Just because you’re at the appointment now doesn’t mean this is your child’s last or only chance to get braces. Some issues may have an optimal age to fix them; some things may be likely to get better or worse over time. If you’re not sure about moving forward, ask whether anything would be different if you were to wait a year before deciding. And if you feel like you’re being pressured, or if you aren’t sure whether you trust everything your orthodontist is saying, feel free to seek a second opinion.
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