If you are a parent, short of funds, and your child needs orthodontics, what should you do?
One thing you can do is check out orthodontic medical colleges and certain teaching hospitals in the New York City area. Many of them offer fee discounted services.
That’s word from Dr. Cristina Teixeira, Chairman of the Department of Orthodontics at New York University College of Dentistry. Her institution has lower fees.
But if your budget can stretch just a little, it may be more practical to select a well recommended local orthodontist whose office is easy to get to for routine and emergency visits.
She and Dr. Garrett Weston of Larchmont Orthodontics believe orthodontics is not just for the wealthy. Dr. Teixeira says that she and her colleagues in her private practice in Hoboken find a way to make treatment affordable. “We don’t accept that lack of money is a deterrent. We ask how much do you think you can pay and we stretch out payments and make adjustments,” she says. Weston says this also is how his office works, as do many other practices in the Larchmont/Mamaroneck area.
Dr. Weston, like his predecessor in his Railroad Way office, Dr. Ploumis, donates his services to St. Basil’s Academy orphanage in Garrison.
Pam Paladin, marketing manager of The American Association of Orthodontists estimates that “between 50% and 70% of the population in general could benefit from some form of orthodontic treatment. Very few are born with perfectly aligned teeth and jaws.”
In some cases, Dr. Weston says, postponing treatment may be an option. There’s little question that orthodontics is the biggest childcare expenditure till college for most families. “In this bad economic climate it makes sense to weigh all options,” he says.
The postponing alternative is based on the reality that teeth are not rooted in stone. They can and do move throughout life. In fact, many adults undertake successfully the orthodontic treatments they never had as youngsters, Dr. Weston says.
But, he adds, “We’ve learned that the period from 7 to 10 years of age is the right time for parents to recognize beginning problems and undertake correction. At this age it will be easier, less cumbersome for the patient, take less time and cost less.”
Dr. Teixeira concurs that sometimes treatment can be safely postponed where there is minor crowding and no skeletal abnormalities. But there are both psychological and medical benefits that accrue when examination and treatment can be started early.
The success of orthodontics is quite dependent on the willingness of the child to follow specific eating, teeth cleaning and other requirements. Younger children are very cooperative. They are willing to listen, understand and cooperate. Three or four years later you’ve almost lost them. It’s hard for teenagers to comply.
Dr. Weston says that when a 7 or 8-year old comes in for examination, the orthodontist can tell the parent what’s going on with the teeth and jaw and what if any correction is needed. Most offices do not charge, or charge only minimally, for this diagnosis. If the parent decides to go ahead, braces usually are not prescribed at this point. But, for example, if the jaw is seen as too small for the teeth, a palatal (roof-of-the-mouth) expander or other inside-the-mouth device may be recommended to widen the jaw and prevent other problems. Later in middle or late adolescence this same treatment can become more difficult, taking more time and possibly affecting the outcome. The early observation/treatment scenario may run for two or three years, after which, if needed, braces can be applied. But here, the brace-wearing period can often be eliminated or considerably shortened to about 6 – 9 months.
Both orthodontists point out that for those children who will wear braces, they no longer have to dread having their smiles obscured by a wall of metal. Many new devices are barely visible, less intrusive and more comfortable.
-Written and photographed by Harold Wolfson