Prolonged use of pacifiers or thumb sucking are common causes of misaligned teeth in children but braces can correct the problem
Milliam Murigi @millymur1
When 21-year-old Peris Wanjiku visited an orthodontist (a dentist who specialises in straightening crooked teeth) early this year, she was looking for a solution to her overlapping teeth.
After consultation, she was advised to put braces to correct the problem. Since she wants to pursue a career in modelling, she couldn’t say no despite the cost.
After three months under the procedure, her teeth had began to straighten but she had to wait for the recommended one year before removing the braces.
“Before, I avoided smiling because I was embarrassed of my misaligned teeth but now I smile comfortably. I wish I heard learnt about braces earlier,” she says.
Peris is not alone. Although childhood is the ideal time to realign crooked teeth, more adults are now opting for orthodontic treatment.
People seeking elective dental procedures now account for 20 per cent of dentist’s practice. And the number keeps rising every year.
According to orthodontist Dr Beatrice Kiptanui, occlusion (poor alignment of teeth) cases are on the rise in Kenya because of bad dental habits such as thumb sucking and using of sucking dummies (pacifiers) for babies for too long.
Prolonged pacifier use and thumb sucking, she says, causes problems with the proper growth of mouth, alignment of teeth and changes in the shape of the roof of the mouth.
“The younger the child stops the more likely their teeth and jaws will correct the growth problems naturally. And if the child continues with the habit when the adult teeth come through there is a risk of permanent changes to the growth of the teeth and jaws,” says Kiptanui.
She advises parents to stop using pacifiers when their children grow permanent teeth and also ensure they are not sucking their thumbs because these are the major causes of teeth misalignment.
Parents should also consult a dental specialist as early as when the child starts to grow milk teeth to ensure the problem is detected early and corrected, she says.
According to her, modern braces are more comfortable and less obtrusive. They are also smaller and use fewer brackets besides coming in many varieties that suit different problems.
“Not every problem can be treated using fixed braces which are commonly used. Some problems can be corrected using removable braces which can either be metallic, clear plastic or ceramic, invisalign braces or lingual braces which are becoming popular nowadays,” says Kiptanui.
She says the duration of treatment is determined by the nature of the problem.
“On average, it takes about two years to complete an orthodontic treatment. Some patients require less than 12 months while others need up to three years of treatment for the problem to be corrected,” says Kiptanui.
To avoid a relapse once the problem is corrected, she advices patients to use a retainer to keep the teeth in line, something she says some patients do not, which may necessitate a repeat of the process.
One of the challenges Kenya faces is a shortage of specialists and lack of structured system for referral services.