How young is 'too young' to get braces?

James Hunter just got braces on his teeth. He's 15. And like so many others, he was a little self-conscious about his smile.

James Hunter just got braces on his teeth. He's 15. And like so many others, he was a little self-conscious about his smile.

"Yeah, it can be embarrassing having crooked teeth."

But some kids are getting braces well before their teenage years. Like Addie Smith, who is only nine. Her mom, Melissa, knew her daughter seemed awfully young for braces.

"But I also was concerned about the way they were coming in. Something wasn't right and I wanted to fix it now."

Addie's situation was different from James'. She had a cross-bite, meaning her upper and lower jaws were out of proportion. So she needed partial braces and a jaw expander. But Melissa knows a second phase of wearing full braces will follow. And it will cost $4 to $5,000.

"It was very important for me. I've known people that didn't have any orthodontic work done and it is affecting them as an adult," said Melissa.

"It's probably less than 20 percent of those children that actually need an early phase of treatment,” explained Dr. David Birdwell.

Dr. Birdwell is James' orthodontist at Orthodontic Associates. He observed James for more than two years before putting on full braces, waiting for all of his adult teeth to come in. James also had a moderate overbite, which generally does not require early treatment.

"But there are some specific problems that, if left unattended at an early age, are more difficult to correct later."

So when should your child be checked out?

"All children should be seen by an orthodontist by the age of seven," said Dr. Frans Currier.

Dr. Currier, the chair of the OU Department of Orthodontics, says kids with under-bites, for example, could need partial braces around age eight or nine. Early treatment makes sure they have enough room to accommodate their adult teeth. This first round of treatment can last a year and a half and as with Addie, round two of full braces will follow.

"There's almost never a 'one phase' that solves all the problems because not all the permanent teeth are in," said Dr. Currier.

Addie's little sister, destiny, needs partial braces too. An expensive investment for both daughters that Melissa says will have a priceless payoff.

"For me, they're going to have a great smile when they're adults and in a job environment, a smile is a very important thing to have."

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