Is My Child Old Enough for Invisalign?

InvisalignAfter first making an appearance in the late 1990s, Invisalign treatments instantly became a popular choice in orthodontics. For adults especially, Invisalign is now the preferred way to straighten a crooked or crowded looking smile. Many grown men and women who thought they were too old for braces can now get the same results that braces deliver, without the “metal mouth” to make them feel like an awkward adolescent again.

Some of the benefits of Invisalign include:

  • Faster treatment time than traditional braces
  • No changes to your diet
  • No special cleaning tools needed; brushing and flossing are the same
  • No monthly visits to have wires tightened
  • Discreet appearance
  • Aligners are removable for special occasions and photos

Hands down, Invisalign is more convenient, discreet, and flexible than traditional braces. What’s not to love?

From a dentist’s point of view, Invisalign does have its limitations. It cannot rotate individual teeth or correct bite dysfunction (overbite, under bite, cross bite, etc.) as traditional braces can. For most cases of mild-to-moderate malocclusion and crowding, however, Invisalign can work orthodontic wonders.

Invisalign for Teens

It makes sense that young people would prefer Invisalign over traditional bracket-and-wire braces, for the same reasons that adults prefer it. The aligners can be removed for school concerts, graduation photos, and selfies—and you’ll never have to worry about food getting stuck in your braces and embarrassing you.

This system is so popular with teens that there is even a version of Invisalign designed especially for this age group. Invisalign Teen helps patients (and their parents) monitor their wear-time, to help make sure they get the full benefit of the treatment. The system also includes a number of free replacement aligners. With today’s teens being more busy and over-scheduled than ever, it’s practically inevitable that an aligner or two will be accidentally thrown out during lunch or lost on the bus, right?

However, the first question we usually get from the parents of our younger orthodontic patients is: how soon can my child use Invisalign?

What is the Minimum Age for Invisalign?

The most important factor to consider when assessing whether a young person can use Invisalign is tooth eruption. Invisalign can only be considered an option when a teen has lost all  his or her baby teeth and the permanent teeth have come in. The system is simply not meant to work in a jaw that is still growing and changing. If used at too young an age, it may be only marginally effective at straightening teeth, or may lead to alignment problems in the future.

The only person who can determine whether your child’s tooth eruption and facial growth is complete is your dentist or orthodontist. For most teens, this point is usually reached by about age 15, but every child is different. Some are ready sooner, some not until later. With each case, we must examine the patient, and review x-rays and growth charts before we can make an appropriate decision on Invisalign candidacy.

Compliance with Invisalign Treatment

Beyond the issue of tooth eruption, compliance is another factor that must be considered when assessing the right age for Invisalign. The fact that Invisalign is a removable orthodontic makes it especially critical to look at each young patient’s candidacy individually. If a young person is not fully committed to the treatment, or is too immature to take it seriously, this may lengthen the treatment timeline, render the treatment ineffective, or even harm the child’s oral health.

For example, the aligners must be worn for 20-22 hours per day. In the beginning at least, this means all the time, except during meals. If a child takes the aligners out during the night when they sleep, or for too many hours during the day, the treatment plan will be rendered ineffective. The charted progression of incremental changes in the aligners is dependent on adequate daily wear time; there is simply no room to cheat on this. If a parent wants the straighter smile more than the child, it may be difficult getting him or her to comply when not directly supervised.

Routine Changes are Necessary

Another issue is the fact that Invisalign requires some pretty substantial changes to a young person’s daily routines. No food or drink should be consumed when wearing the aligners (except plain water), and the patient must always brush and floss the teeth carefully before replacing them after mealtimes.

For a young person who is used to snacking or sipping soda in the afternoon, this can be a hard adjustment. Cheating on this rule is not just a matter of damaging the aligners and making them less effective—it can also lead to the development of tooth decay and gum disease. Because teeth do not come into contact with saliva when wearing the aligners, any food or beverage residue can lead to the development of cavities (and staining) much faster than usual.

A young person considering Invisalign needs to know that their meal times will need to be rigidly scheduled, and oral hygiene must be vigilant. If the child is more concerned with creature comforts than correcting their smile, you won’t see the positive results you expect.

Making the Right Call

Ultimately, determining the right age for Invisalign is something of a group decision. Your orthodontist can tell you whether a child is physically ready for the treatment, but only the parents and patients can make the final call on whether the mental readiness is there.

Some questions to think about:

  • Is my child deeply motivated to get a straighter smile?
  • Is my child mature enough to understand the consequences of misusing the aligners?
  • Is my child willing to change his or her eating habits?
  • Will he or she be able to adjust to sleeping with the aligners in?

Parents tend to know their children best, we find, but the patient must be willing to commit to the needed lifestyle changes. If your child is 15 or older, he or she is likely physically ready for Invisalign. Any parents considering Invisalign need to have a frank talk with their child about the investment and commitment before deciding to pursue the treatment. Teenagers who are intrinsically motivated to improve their smiles tend to do best with Invisalign, so it’s really the child’s choice to make.

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