What’s the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist? What happens if your child needs braces? And what should you know about early orthodontic screening? We speak to three reputable dentists here in Singapore to answer these questions, and more.
It’s always challenging to navigate healthcare options, especially as an expat in an unfamiliar country. Thankfully, Singapore is easier than most places and offers excellent dental care options. You can pick up the phone for an appointment, or – in many cases – simply walk in. First, you’ll need to decide if it’s a dentist or an orthodontist you’re seeking. If your child needs a basic check-up, you’ll want to find a dentist to concentrate on the broader aspects of the mouth; an orthodontist, on the other hand, specialises in the correction of dental irregularities such as crooked teeth, overcrowded teeth, and over- or under-bites.
When is the right time for my child’s first dental visit?
According to Dr Stephanie Salanitri of Smilefocus, your child’s first visit to the dentist should be between 12 and 18 months, or when the first tooth erupts. A quick check at this early stage will identify factors in your child’s habits and dietary history that may contribute to his or her tooth decay risk. Baby teeth are especially vulnerable to decay because the enamel is softer and thinner than in adult teeth, so sugar and food acids can cause more damage. Taking your child in for regular screenings while he or she is still an infant is a good idea because it helps them perceive the dental clinic as a safe, familiar place, rather than the source of nightmares! Early visits also set the stage for good dental habits and early modifications to diet as part of preventative care.
What should I expect from a first visit?
Your child’s first visit is likely to be short and informal – a “meet and greet”, according to Dr Salanitri. You may be asked to hold your child while the dentist looks into his or her mouth. A quick check will tell much about your child’s gums, jaw and bite. Your dentist may also clean your child’s teeth or apply fluoride if there are stains or risk of cavities. This is also your chance to ask any questions you may have on toddler teething, thumb-sucking and diet. Schedule your appointment for early in the day when your child isn’t tired or cranky, and treat the visit as a low-key, routine event. “Don’t use bribery, threats or negative words like ‘pain’, ‘pull’ or ‘drill’, or phrases like ‘It won’t hurt much’ or ‘It won’t be too bad’, as this will only create anxiety,” says Dr Salanitri. “Our dentists have special ways of explaining to your child what is happening, so you can rest assured that your child will be in good hands, especially if he or she is nervous or has special needs.”
At what age should a child see an orthodontic specialist?
The American Association of Orthodontics recommends children see an orthodontist by the age of seven years. According to Dr Catherine Lee of Dr Catherine Lee Orthodontics, this is because the first permanent molars and incisors have come up by then, and cross-bites, crowding and injury-prone dental protrusions can be evaluated. “Habits such as thumb-sucking can also be addressed at this time,” she says.
What sort of jaw problems do you see in children?
Dr Lee says there are a number of issues that orthodontists commonly correct. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Jaw growth issues: Sometimes, a child’s upper jaw is underdeveloped, or the lower jaw develops too fast. “Early intervention will help avoid surgery or additional costs later on,” says Dr Lee.
- Overcrowding: Overcrowded teeth may be poorly aligned, either because the dental arch is small or because the teeth are large.
- An open bite: The result of upper and lower incisor teeth failing to make contact, an open bite causes all the chewing pressure to be borne by the back teeth, potentially resulting in significant tooth wear.
- A deep overbite: This occurs when the lower incisor teeth bite into the gum tissue behind the upper teeth, causing discomfort or even bone damage.
- An underbite: This occurs when the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw, causing a change to the appearance of the face. With most of these issues, early orthodontic intervention can mean less expense later on.
What are some typical orthodontic treatments?
“Appliances such as the palatal expander – a fixture applied to the upper back teeth to expand the width of the jaw – and orthodontic headgear, which is worn overnight and applies pressure to the jaw to guide the rate and direction of jaw growth, are examples of early intervention jaw-growth correction,” says Dr Lee.
How can I tell if my child needs braces?
Getting fitted with braces is another orthodontic solution for problems like crowded teeth, an open bite or extra teeth; braces work by putting small, incremental forces on the teeth to move them into the desired position.
According to Dr Haled Ghoddousi of FDC Dental Group (FDC), it’s never too late to get braces. “Orthodontic braces have been used in children and are now increasingly used in adults to treat crooked teeth,” she says, “and an orthodontist can see a child as early as seven or eight years of age to assess their dental development and facial growth. Some early interceptive treatment may be necessary at this stage.”
What does the process of getting braces involve?
“The process begins with a detailed assessment,” says Dr Ghoddousi, “that includes the taking of measurements, x-rays, models of your teeth and pre-treatment clinical photographs. Following this, the orthodontist decides whether a removable, fixed or combination brace is most appropriate for you or your child.” For removable braces, Dr Ghoddousi explains that models of your teeth are required, and the appliance can usually be fitted a week or two later. Fixed braces, on the other hand, are attached chair-side by your orthodontist. “You’ll then need to visit at the regular intervals advised by your orthodontist to have your braces checked and adjusted,” she says. “The final and most important step is to wear retainers to maintain your teeth in their new, straight position.”
Are braces painful?
According to Dr Ghoddousi, the pain involved in getting and wearing braces is nothing like a toothache. “It may feel a little tight or achy when they’re adjusted – nothing that can’t be resolved by a couple of the kind of painkillers you would normally take.”
What brace options are available?
Dr Ghoddousi says, “There are different types of braces, including metal, ceramic and invisible ones. Metal braces are the most commonly used, though ceramic braces are made of tooth-coloured material and are less visible. The newer version of removable braces are invisible, and they can be removed for brushing and eating.” FDC provides all three types of braces and has expertise in treating adults, children and anxious patients.
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