How to Prepare Your Child for the Orthodontist

Girls Laughing and Smiling with Braces

When your child finds out that they have an appointment at the orthodontist, they might respond in a variety of ways: fear, shame, anxiety, anger or confusion. This is your chance to swoop in and provide support, reassurance and education. The more you can help your child prepare for the orthodontist, the less they will have to fear.

The best way to ease their anxiety? Answer their questions.

1) How is an orthodontist different than a dentist?

Orthodontists are similar to dentists but have additional, specialized training in helping with issues like overbites, under bites, crowding, and large gaps between teeth. They're experts in helping develop beautiful, healthy smiles.

2) Why do I have to go?

Going to the dentist can be scary in general, and going to a specialist can be even more unnerving. Your child might be afraid that there's something seriously wrong with them, that they're ill, or that the experience will be painful. Explain that seeing an orthodontist now will help their smile be healthier and more confident for the rest of their lives.

3) What kind of treatment will I need?

While many kids do needs braces, there are other early intervention treatment options that orthodontists provide, including clear aligners, palate expanders, retainers and many other options. Make sure your child has an idea of what they are seeing the orthodontist for and encourage them to ask questions.

4) What's going to happen at the appointment?

The first appointment is usually a consultation — an opportunity for the orthodontist to examine your child's teeth and bite (the way the upper and lower teeth meet), get x-rays and impressions (where you bite into a mold), and devise a treatment plan. It's also a chance for your child to meet the staff and get used to the environment. This appointment is all about deciding on the best plan of action while making sure everyone feels comfortable and at ease.

5) Is it going to hurt?

This is the toughest question because the answer might be yes. It's important to be honest with your child without scaring them. If your child gets braces, there will be some pain and discomfort for the first week and whenever they have them adjusted or tightened. The good news is that over-the-counter pain relievers work very well (and so do milkshakes!). They can also use a special wax to help protect their gums from irritation and poking.

The conversation you have with your child will depend greatly on their age and what treatment you foresee them needing. Children can go in for their first orthodontist appointment as early as age seven. Known as interceptive orthodontics, this can be a great way to get ahead and start dealing with issues like overcrowding and malocclusion (bad bite). Braces, if needed, aren't placed until the majority of permanent teeth have come in, generally between age 10-14. Regardless of age, if you're armed and ready to answer questions and surround them with emotional support, their first appointment, and every one afterward, will go much more smoothly.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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  • Swish with water before brushing – instruct your child to rinse with water after eating. This will loosen food that may be caught in the braces, then brush thoroughly.
  • Floss once a day – each night help your child floss. Flossing helps loosen food debris and plaque at and under the gum line that would otherwise harden into tartar. It can also help reach the nooks and crannies in the teeth that might be difficult to reach with a toothbrush.
  • Use a fluoride rinse – after brushing and before bed have your child rinse with fluoride rinse to help keep teeth strong and healthy
  • Dental visits every six months – take your child to the dentist for a checkup and cleaning every six months. The dentist can point out areas that need more attention, and help make sure you're keeping your child’s teeth healthy and clean.