SingaporeMotherhood | Preschooler & Up

May 2023

Do You Know If Your Child Needs Early Orthodontic Treatment?

Does your child frequently complain about mouth ulcers? Is there a change in the way your once bubbly and always smiling child interacts with others? Are your child’s speech or eating habits compromised by crooked or overlapping teeth? These are all signs that your child may need early orthodontic treatment.

(See also: Best Kids Dentists & Family-friendly Dental Clinics in Singapore + Costs)

Importance of Early Orthodontic Treatment for Children

Simply put, early orthodontic treatment can improve a child’s smile, alleviate speech issues, and address chewing difficulties, among other problems. It works by correcting the alignment of a child’s teeth and jaws.

Orthodontic problems usually surface when a child is six or seven, when baby teeth start to fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth. During this time, children’s bones are developing, so it is easier to address these issues at the early stages to mitigate the risk of a complex case in the future. Additionally, children facing orthodontic problems potentially struggle with self-esteem, as peers might tease them about their looks, causing emotional stress.

In fact, the need for early orthodontic treatment is more common than we think! A study found that over half of children and adolescents worldwide suffer from some form of malocclusion (misalignment of teeth). But not all hope is lost — with early orthodontic treatment, about 15 percent of developing dental problems can be fully corrected, while 49 percent can improve with a simple interceptive treatment.

Paediatric dentist at work
Image: Nadezhda Moryak on Pexels

The Association of Orthodontists (Singapore) recommends children receive screening by an orthodontist at seven to eight years of age. Early intervention can prevent the need for more drastic treatments when a child is older. For example, straightening your child’s teeth will make cleaning easier. Consequently, it reduces the accumulation of plaque and bacteria, which causes tooth decay and gum diseases. Even if your child requires future orthodontic treatment, it is likely to see better outcomes.

That said, while dental practitioners play a crucial role in the early identification of orthodontic problems in children, parents have a bigger role to play. After all, as you interact with your children daily, you are likely the first to notice signs of orthodontic problems.

Three Common Signs that Your Child Needs Early Orthodontic Treatment

  1. Your child has difficulty chewing – Misaligned jaws can result in an overbite or underbite, making it difficult for them to chew properly. Another tell-tale sign is if they are constantly having mouth ulcers as their teeth might be biting into their cheeks.
  1. Your child is older than five years and still sucks a thumb or finger – Thumb or finger-sucking might be harmless up to the age of four. Beyond this age, it poses a few problems such as dental-facial deformities and crooked teeth.
  1. Your child is breathing through the mouth – Does your child snore at night or breathe through the mouth even when they are not sick? The shape of your child’s jaw and mouth might be preventing them from closing their mouth correctly.

(See also: Think Your Child’s Snoring is Cute? Think again. It could be Paediatric Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA))

Early Orthodontic Treatment Options to Consider for Children

Now that we’ve identified these signs, what are some early orthodontic treatment options for your child?

Dental Braces

orthodontic treatment - conventional metal braces
Image: Quang Tri NGUYEN on Unsplash

The most known and common treatment that people opt for is dental braces. Braces are an effective form of early orthodontic treatment, and are also the most affordable.

Editor’s note: Costs for conventional metal braces generally start from about $3,500 in Singapore. Ceramic braces, which are slightly less noticeable, start from about $4,300. Do note that costs vary across clinics and ultimately depend on the complexity and duration of each case.

However, a downside of dental braces is that the brackets may cause mouth sores. It also requires repeated visits to the dentist to adjust the braces as your child grows.

Furthermore, children must practise good dental habits such as regular flossing to keep their braces clean. Dental care is also easier if they avoid specific foods that are crunchy or sticky to prevent damaging their braces. Some children may take a little time to get used to these practices, while others may struggle with it indefinitely. However, they’re crucial to prevent the risk of poor oral health and potential tooth decay when plaque accumulates.

Clear Aligners

orthodontic treatment - Invisalign clear aligners
Invisalign® clear aligners

Clear aligners are another solution — a virtually invisible one that works best for active children who are self-conscious about their teeth and worry about being called “braceface”. With clear aligners, 3D scanning ensures every set of aligners fits comfortably in your child’s mouth.

For example, Invisalign First is a teeth-straightening system catering to little ones from six to 10 years with a mix of baby teeth and adult teeth. From the start of the treatment, you receive a series of aligners for your child to use as they grow.

What’s more, because clear aligners are removable, children can continue to brush their teeth as usual and eat the food they love without restricting their diet. There are no metal wires to irritate their mouths as they go about their active lifestyles. It also involves fewer clinic visits, which means less disruption to a child’s schedule, freeing them up to take part in other activities. You can also use the My Invisalign mobile app that not only helps children and parents track progress but also keeps them motivated throughout the treatment journey.

Editor’s note: Invisalign treatment in Singapore typically ranges from about $4,000 to $8,000. Some clinics may quote less, but this may not cover pre-treatment fees, dental x-rays, and other miscellaneous charges. Depending on the complexity of each case, treatment usually takes between six and 18 months.

(See also: Bringing your Toddler to the Dentist)

Factors to Consider when Choosing the Right Interceptive Orthodontic Treatment for Children

Let’s narrow down what parents should consider when deciding on embarking on an interceptive orthodontic treatment. Remember that treatment success relies heavily on patient compliance. Thus it’s important to choose a treatment that your child is willing and able to follow through.

First and foremost, bring your child to a paediatric dentist for an oral health check and discuss your concerns. The paediatric dentist would be able to refer your child to a suitable orthodontist, who can then diagnose and confirm the severity of the condition, as well as advise on treatment options.

smiling children
Image: Align Technology

Age, costs, and treatment durations are some of the factors to consider. But most of all, easy implementation and commitment should be key to your final decision on which option to go for. Orthodontic treatment is an investment, so you want to ensure your child is committed to the process to see significant results.

In addition, let’s not forget that while you might want the best for your children, it is important to sit them down and have an honest conversation to ensure everyone is on the same page before jumping into any orthodontic treatment. They should also be aware that regardless of which orthodontic treatment they choose, they will have to wear retainers afterwards to prevent teeth from gradually shifting back to their initial position.

All in all, it is a rather big lifestyle change and commitment for children. The last thing we want is for them to be emotionally stressed and unhappy if forced through the treatment. Regardless of how their teeth or jaw might look, as long as a child is happy, their smile can light up any room.

This article was contributed by Dr Lionel Hui Bon Hoa, senior director of Global Clinical Development at Align Technology, the company behind Invisalign®.

Featured image: Align Technology

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Do You Know If Your Child Needs Early Orthodontic Treatment?