As parents, each of us is constantly seeking out the best information and opportunities for our children.

In 2020, the way we obtain information has changed drastically from years past.  Rapid, global communication networks have allowed us to connect with each other and share our experiences. In the health care space, forward-thinking providers are evaluating ways to make use of technologies to improve patient care and communication, while warning against the excesses of self-diagnosis and the overuse of “Dr. Google.”

In the orthodontic space, technology has allowed for faster, more comfortable treatment with better results than ever before. However, orthodontists still encounter some commonly held, yet incorrect ideas.

In today’s article, Dr. Lance Miller of Keene Orthodontic Specialists dispels five myths about orthodontics.

1.) Your child doesn’t need to see an orthodontist until his or her teen years.

As many parents already know, young children have primary, or “baby,” teeth that are gradually replaced by permanent teeth. This process usually starts around age 6. Before that time, it is very unlikely that orthodontic treatment would be needed.

Dr. Miller explained, “Age 6 or 7 is when we get a first look at the permanent teeth that are coming in. We can analyze the position of the front teeth and the 6-year molars, which are important in establishing a good bite. This age is also a good time to take a panoramic x-ray to ensure there are no missing teeth or other problems with tooth development.”

This thinking is the rationale behind the recommendation of the American Association of Orthodontists that children see an orthodontist by age 7. Although most children are best treated at age 12 to 13, when all of the permanent teeth have erupted, there are certain conditions that warrant early intervention.

In some cases, a first phase of treatment can make subsequent treatment shorter and less complicated and can eliminate the need for extractions or jaw surgery.

“We try to be as conservative as possible in recommending early treatment. For the most part, I find myself telling parents to wait and treat orthodontic problems after all the adult teeth have come in. Early screening visits help us find those outliers who could benefit substantially by starting at a younger age,” said Miller.

Dr. Miller also remarked on the emotional and psychological effects that early orthodontic intervention can have for a child’s self-confidence. Children with visible dental issues, such as an overbite, may endure teasing from peers and be timid or reluctant to smile.

“We see kids come out of their shell during orthodontic treatment and hear from their parents that they are no longer teased and are more comfortable with smiling,” he said.

2.) Parents can usually tell if their child needs orthodontic treatment.

Although some orthodontic problems are obvious to the average observer, there are important issues that can only be diagnosed by a professional. In many cases, the issues that are less apparent are ones that affect the health and function of the teeth.

Dr. Miller says, “Problems such as deep bites, crossbites and impacted teeth are hard for parents to diagnose on their own. Many of these issues are relatively simple to correct in a growing child but become much more difficult if left unattended into adulthood.”

Just like you see your doctor and dentist for checkups that screen for common and easily diagnosed conditions, it makes sense to have your child screened for orthodontic issues, especially during the time of development when treatment is most effective and socially acceptable.

3.) You only need to take your child to an orthodontist if your dentist gives you a referral.

Many patients are referred to the orthodontist by their general dentist, who may detect orthodontic problems at a routine cleaning or checkup.

“We rely heavily on the dental professionals in your family dental practice,” said Dr. Miller. “The dentist and hygienist you see on a regular basis can monitor your child’s dental development over time.”

However, a referral from a dentist is not required to see an orthodontist. Many parents notice issues with their children’s teeth or are motivated by a child who expresses embarrassment about their smile.

“More and more of our patients are calling our office directly to schedule an evaluation. While we work hand-in-hand with your dental office, patients are certainly welcome to begin the process themselves to understand the nature of their child’s orthodontic issues and the recommended treatment,” said Dr. Miller.

4.) Orthodontic consultations are always expensive.

Dr. Miller said of this myth, “Initial evaluations in our office are always complimentary. A big part of our job is educating patients and parents. We want every family to feel comfortable in their understanding of their orthodontic needs before any financial commitment is made.”

Kids ages 7 to 12 who are not ready for treatment are enrolled in Dr. Miller’s 7 and Up Club.  Benefits of the club include free membership, as well as free orthodontic consultations, photos and x-rays. By joining the 7 & Up Club, parents can ensure that their child’s possible needs for orthodontic treatment are regularly assessed every 6-12 months with the monitoring of tooth development by Dr. Miller.

For parents concerned with the cost of the actual orthodontic treatment, Dr. Miller says his practice is conservative in what they recommend to younger patients, and they are attuned to the financial factors.

“It’s got to be worthwhile,” he said. “We want to see a benefit that outweighs the cost… occasionally, a parent will ask if their child with severe orthodontic problems should have been brought in sooner and sometimes the answer is yes. We’re trying to avoid a greater need down the road,” Dr. Miller said.

His office accepts the state health insurance of New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, as well as some employer insurance which covers orthodontics treatment. They also take payments over the time of treatment, rather than all up front.

5.) Orthodontics is painful or uncomfortable.

The orthodontic treatment many parents remember is vastly different from the experience that their children will have. Like other fields, orthodontics has progressed dramatically in reducing pain, discomfort and inconvenience.

“It is exciting to me to be able to offer state of the art treatments that not only are more comfortable for the patient than in years past, but also deliver better results,” Dr. Miller said. “The most striking example is digital scanning, which eliminates the goopy impressions so many of us remember from our time in braces.”

The state of the art of orthodontics is progressing rapidly, with esthetic clear aligners, more comfortable braces and wires and digital radiography.

In an age where many voices vie for our attention, seeking the care of a trained professional makes sense when it comes to your child’s dental care. 

“As orthodontists, our goal is to create a smile that is beautiful, functional, healthy and stable.  It is hard to overestimate the benefits of a great smile,” concluded Dr. Miller. 

To learn more about orthodontics or to ask specific questions about your child, contact your local orthodontist or find out more at braces.org, the official website of the American Association of Orthodontists. With offices in Keene, Brattleboro and Rindge, Dr. Miller’s practice can be found online at keeneortho.com. For more information, call 352-8661.