How the powerful benefits of orthodontics for children extend well beyond cosmetics
For those of you filled with apprehension at the thought of orthodontics, we have very good news. In the decades since you had work done, the field has developed dramatically, reducing cost, appointment times and discomfort. Today, orthodontics is affordable and offers many side benefits you may have never considered—benefits that can radically improve your child’s life and future.
The health benefits of orthodontics are many. When Dr. Tom Kadar, of Kadar Orthodontics, first evaluates his youngest patients—7 is typically the age when it is suggested such assessments begin—he is looking for proper mouth, jaw and teeth development in order to “make sure everything is growing correctly. We want to see if the teeth and jaws need to be put in balance, if there are habits that can affect proper development such as tongue-thrusting and thumb-sucking,” he says. “Really, anything that helps a smile develop. When a smile is developing correctly, typically everything else works out.”
One good analogy, as described by Dr. Frank Batastini of Batastini Orthodontics, is to compare the mouth to the structure of a home. “Imagine a basement and a house that aren’t proportional. The structure must support the house on top of it. The same is true if one arch does not relate to the other—the bite collapses, which can cause long-term complications,” he says. “Orthodontic correction of the bite provides a more stable environment for the bones and teeth to function together properly.”
What exactly does a “stable environment” entail? Aligned teeth make the mouth more cleansable and healthier overall, which affects eating and chewing function. “When [children] have problems, that affects eating and chewing, which affects digestion. If you can’t grind up your food right, your stomach can’t break it down and you can’t get the full nutrition,” stresses Dr. James TenBrook of TenBrook Orthodontics.
Kadar adds that if the bite or the position of the teeth is wrong, it affects many areas, including the onset of temporomandibular disorders (TMD)—where chronic pain is found in the jaw—and can even wear the teeth away. “When it’s correct, you can breathe better, headaches are relieved and teeth are easier to clean.”
Other health benefits include help for sinus issues and speech problems. “Proper function may result in better phonics, reduce headaches/migraines and healthier periodontal tissue, to name a few,” says Batastini.
“Sinus problems are very typical. So are allergy and asthma issues,” adds TenBrook. “It’s about the anatomic airflow in your sinuses, the natural constriction in your face. If you expand the jaw, you expand the airway. You improve sinus issues.” In regards to speech issues, while younger children may be sent to a speech pathologist, nine out of 10 issues are about the anatomy of the upper jaw and the function of the tongue, he says. “Getting teeth fixed often changes how the tongue functions.”
In fact, the rewards of orthodontics may go beyond what you’d normally expect. “One of the big benefits isn’t always obvious but a big problem for children—self-esteem and self-confidence,” says TenBrook. “Peers can be tough, especially to kids with overbites and crowding. Parents may discuss it in private but don’t say it to their kids. So as we create a beautiful smile, we create a balance in their face. They really blossom,” he says. “They even do better in school because they feel confident and happy with the way they look.”
Batastini couldn’t agree more that the process increases self-esteem during the all-important adolescent years. “In today’s society, where more focus has been placed on appearance, kids become more self-aware. When baby teeth and permanent teeth are erupting during the same time, it is inevitable that some crowding may exist,” he says. “This is part of normal eruption. Interceptive treatment can provide limited correction of the upper anterior four teeth to provide an adequate smile, which builds a child’s confidence during this adolescent period. Complete orthodontics inevitably leads to a more outgoing and social individual.”
When it comes to the psychological impact of healthy teeth, the impact can be stunning. If you ask Kadar, the benefits are immeasurable. “Many kids don’t show their teeth because they’re embarrassed. They say that people think they’re grumpy or shy but they’re really just unhappy with their smile,” he says. “Then they get it fixed and they’re proud of it. They’re more relaxed and comfortable with themselves. This is a big help during the awkward development stage. Self-esteem, self-confidence—everything is boosted by a great smile.”
Developments in the field
“The basic principles of orthodontics have not changed. Our ultimate goal is to provide straight teeth,” begins Batastini. “In most cases, you still have to attach brackets and bands to the teeth and arch wires to move them.” What has changed is the design of the bracket. They can be clear or metal, and may have colored rubber bands or small gates to hold the wires on. Invisalign moves teeth without bands, brackets and wires, but has limitations and is case dependent, says Batastini. “Headgears, homegears, elastics and retainers are all still part of treatment.”
Still, compared to when many of us were children, the field today is much improved. Archaic, huge and uncomfortable appliances have developed into nickel titanium arch wires that reduce the force on the teeth and the use of smaller biomorphic brackets that remove nooks and crannies so problems can’t begin, says TenBrook. “In fact, there’s very little discomfort.”
In addition, technology has reduced treatment times. “Before, you had braces for two to three years. Now it’s about one year,” says TenBrook. Teeth can be moved more efficiently and appointments are shorter because the work takes less time. “We can then reduce the fees, passing the savings onto our patients.” All of this means that where it used to be uncommon for kids to have braces, now more kids have options.
“Today’s insurance programs are more comprehensive and available for working families,” adds Batastini. A small down payment, insurance benefit, and even third-party financial programs help to extend teeth correction to a wider population, he says.
“And really, this is why all orthodontists do what we do,” says Kadar, “to uncover that hidden smile.”
Frank Batastini Orthodontics
Locations in Turnersville, Moorestown and Philadelphia
485 Hurffville-Cross Keys Road
Locations in Bridgeton, Galloway, Millville, Mullica Hill, Pilesgrove, Sewell, Vineland and Woolwich
Published (and copyrighted) in the Art of Living Well pull-out section of Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 12 (February, 2013).
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