The Mouths of Babes: Why Your 7-Year-Old May Be Ready for Braces

young boy with bracesThe Smile of My Dreams

Like many of my peers who grew up in the 80s and 90s, I had a serious need for braces as a child but didn’t get them until I was a mom in my 30s. Though I needed them for legit medical reasons {severe overcrowding, a tiny bite, extra teeth}, that wasn’t the driving factor behind why I most wanted to have them. It may be vanity {I don’t think so}, but as a teenager, all I wanted was to have a perfect smile like all of the beautiful girls on TV and in magazines. Because although I was fortunate to grow up in a time before social media, the message I received loud and clear was You need to keep your mouth shut so no one sees your teeth.

My husband, who has known me since I was 14 years old, says that I covered my mouth with my hand when I spoke or ate until my braces came off at the age of 36. Can you imagine?! I didn’t even realize that I had developed this coping mechanism, let alone that others had been aware of it for half of my life! I think back on those years and I can’t believe I reduced the value of my contribution in this world to the alignment of my teeth.

The Mom I Planned to Be

But our children are growing up in a world that is even more concerned with outward appearances than anything we experienced. Knowing this, I vowed that when I had my own child, there was no way I’d let them go without a picture-perfect smile. No way I’d make them live with an issue that was quickly getting out of hand. No way I’d miss the warning signs that my child needed orthodontic intervention. But I did.

You see, despite everything I believed about the kind of parent I would be, it never occurred to me that there have been tremendous advances made in the field of pediatric orthodontics in the past 25 years.

It used to be that most kids went through an awkward phase once their adult teeth came in. We may have felt self-conscious about it but it was a shared experience that we all understood. Then the lucky ones would get braces and the rest of us would spend the next 15 years avoiding smiling for the camera until we could hopefully afford them as adults.

How Did I Let This Happen?!

My own son was 9 years old when I first noticed the lisp. It was 2021, over 18 months into the pandemic and though he was safely attending school, I hadn’t really seen any of his peers since March 2020. He’d had speech therapy for a lisp when he was 4 and with treatment, he moved past it. So why was it back, 5 years later?

I’ll admit I noticed that his top front teeth jutted out a bit more than I thought was normal but I chalked it up to something that we would rectify ‘when he got braces in a few years’. His dentist didn’t seem concerned. Wouldn’t she have agreed with me when I brought it to her attention at his last appointment?

It took hearing the lisp again to help me realize that in the madness of pandemic life, I’d missed a MAJOR red flag. It was about this time that I started noticing on social media that some of my son’s friends were already wearing braces. That didn’t seem right… did it?

What I Didn’t Know

After talking to their moms, I was stunned to learn that orthodontists regularly treat children as young as 7 who present abnormal pediatric cases. How did I miss this? Honestly, I blame the pandemic for most of my misinformation. If I’d been spending time with friends and their kids, I would have noticed the trend much sooner. Once I realized early treatment was a thing, I booked an appointment right away.

We’re extremely lucky to have an excellent orthodontist in our town, who was accepting new patients. We were seen within just a couple of weeks. After seeing the x-rays, another wave of guilt washed over me. His teeth were so far forward. This was such an obvious issue. He could barely cover his teeth with his top lip. Seriously woman, how did you miss this?!

The Plan Moving Forward

Fortunately for me, it would seem as though the doctor and office staff are used to working with panicky, overactive moms like me. They assured me that I hadn’t missed some imaginary treatment window. He will wear braces for about 18 months, after which time they’ll be removed and he’ll transition to wearing retainers for a couple of years. Once all of his baby teeth fall out and his adult teeth come in, he’ll spend about a year in braces again. By this point, most of the movement will have already taken place. The second round of braces will be an opportunity to refine the positioning of the teeth, rather than the traditional overhaul kids often endure around 13 or 14.

Luckily, my son has taken to braces well. We knew that his friends’ opinions and comments would be a huge factor in how he felt about the experience and they came through in a big way. They were all very supportive and wanted braces, too. Way to be part of the team, kids!

I am so grateful for the opportunity to give him the treatment I couldn’t have when I was younger. Maybe he wouldn’t have cared one bit if he never had braces. But I know that as kind as they are, kids can also be cruel. It makes me feel like, in this particular area, I’ve done well by him.

Advocate Like an Expert

If you have concerns about your child’s bite or alignment, or you’ve noticed changes in their speech, I encourage you to make an appointment for an orthodontic evaluation. Dentists don’t always make referrals even when parents have concerns, so this may be a situation where you will need to act as your child’s #1 advocate. You’re the expert of your child so when it comes to their teeth, trust your gut!

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Bambi N.
Bambi is a Kingwood transplant by way of Fairbanks, Alaska. Her Houstonian status was fast-tracked by her family’s disastrous Hurricane Harvey experience just 2 months after arriving… but she’s never looked back! She spent 14 years doing meaningful work for the University of Alaska Fairbanks before landing her dream job as a children's library worker for the Harris County Public Library. She has been happily married to Richard since 2004 and is an extremely proud mom to Miles {April 2012}. When she’s not scouring Pinterest for story time craft ideas, she enjoys reading, blogging and vegging out to British TV while eating pasta. Her family loves Disney cruises and will sail any chance they get! Bambi's goals are to create a Little Free Library in her front yard and to volunteer with local child-centric services. She a bit obsessed with personal development and would be happy to suggest several books and podcasts if you dare mention a similar interest! She can't wait to connect with Houston families through her writing and Houston Moms events.


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