An orthodontist is a type of dentist that specializes in providing orthodontic treatment for irregularities of the mouth. For instance, a child with crooked teeth will go to an orthodontist for teeth-straightening braces or a retainer. An orthodontist also fixes problems caused by a misaligned jaw. While crooked teeth and an uneven jaw can be a cosmetic issue, these are actually very serious problems that can interfere with chewing and breathing. They can cause impaired speech and make it difficult to open or close the mouth. Ultimately, by not getting orthodontic treatment early, problems will worsen with age. Also, crooked teeth can make a child a target for teasing.

How to know when to see an orthodontist

There is no set age for when a child should go to an orthodontist. The fact is, not every child requires orthodontic treatment. One of the best ways to ensure that crooked teeth or jaw problems are treated in time is by staying current on dentist appointments. At regular visits, the dentist will x-ray your child’s mouth and inform you of a problem that requires orthodontic treatment. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests that kids see their dentist twice a year for cleanings, exams and x-rays.

What happens at an orthodontist appointment?

An orthodontist office looks very much like an ordinary dentist’s office. The orthodontist will do a thorough examination of your child’s mouth and ask if he or she is having problems chewing or swallowing. The doctor will ask if the child’s jaw makes popping sounds or if he snores. At a first exam, and again during periodic follow-ups, a technician will take x-rays. For kids who need braces, the orthodontist will make a mold of the child’s teeth.

How an orthodontist and a dentist differ

An estimated 12 percent of kids fear going to the dentist. The good news is that the two appointments are very different. While a dentist cleans teeth and oftentimes fills cavities — both of which can be scary and painful — an orthodontist simply examines the mouth. While getting braces, a child may feel pressure, but it is not a painful experience. Another difference between a dentist and orthodontist is that an orthodontist rarely ever uses a needle.

How often will your child see an orthodontist?

This can differ based on the treatment plan for the individual. If your child needs braces, she will see the specialist regularly. Her appointments can occur anywhere from once every six to nine weeks at the start of treatment, to two to three times a year until the braces are removed. Your child could also be a candidate for Invisalign®.(Invisalign® offers a level of comfort, covenience, and confidence that you don’t get with metal or ceramic braces. Invisalign® is completely clear, and when worn over the teeth is virtually invisible. Invisalign® works by using a custom made series of aligners created specifically for the individual patient. There are no wires or brackets that need to be adjusted or tightened. The patient will use a new set of aligners every two weeks until the treatment has completed.) 

The reason why orthodontist appointments occur so frequently is so the doctor can be sure the treatment is working and get an idea of how long your child will need braces. Some kids may have braces for less than a year while others require more intensive treatment. The average amount of time kids wear braces is from one to three years.

There is no set amount of time a child will have braces. A child with a mouth full of crooked teeth can wear braces for a year while one with a seemingly less problematic overbite can spend many of her adolescent and teen years in the orthodontist chair. For some, a small mouth can cause overcrowding and may require the removal of one or more teeth. For others, a retainer can easily shift teeth into alignment after a few months. Since just under half of all kids need braces for ordinary problems, the key is to get treatment as early as possible. Postponing treatment not only allows the problem to escalate, but it can also diminish your child’s self-confidence.

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