Five things to know about orthodontia in Whatcom County


Not everyone naturally grows a picture-perfect set of teeth. For children developing irregularities in their teeth or jaws, seeing an orthodontist is usually the answer.

How to find an orthodontist

Linh Vu, a Whatcom County dentist and current president of the Mt. Baker Dental District Society, said asking a primary care dentist for recommendations is a good place to start.

A family dentist can help diagnose a need for orthodontic work and provide referrals if needed, although Derek Damon, a Bellingham-based orthodontist, said many orthodontists don’t require referrals to begin seeing new patients.

Earlier is better

Vu recommends parents begin taking their children to a dentist as early as six months old, giving them a head start on oral exams and possible diagnosis of early dental diseases like baby bottle tooth decay.

The disease is often caused by sugary drinks like juice or soda interacting acidly on the teeth, and can lead to severe tooth decay in infants and toddlers, according to the American Dental Association.

Early dental visits can also help

diagnose related medical issues, such as breathing blockages or tonsil problems, Vu said.

Children should get in for their first evaluation at age 7, according to the American Association of Orthodontists, although Damon said most orthodontic treatments begin around age 12, after kids have lost any remaining baby teeth.

Common issues orthodontists look to correct include under bites, over bites, and overcrowded or misaligned teeth, some of which are caused by tongue or thumb-sucking habits. Narrow jaws can also be an indicator of potential issues, Damon said.

Brace yourself for costs

If your child should need braces, prepare for sticker shock.

Damon said the cost for a full pair of braces typically ranges from $5,000 to $6,000 for a teenager, but costs can escalate based on the severity of cases, especially ones requiring oral surgery.

Insurance can often defray some or most of the cost, so be knowledgeable about your dental coverage and what insurance providers your orthodontist accepts.

A retainer is usually worn after a child gets their braces off, but is substantially cheaper at around $300, Damon said.

Timeline for braces

Damon said children can expect to wear their braces anywhere from one to two-and-a-half years, depending on their individual issues.

During that time, they should avoid hard and crunchy foods, such as ice, nuts and hard candies. Sticky foods like caramel and taffy also are discouraged, Damon said.

After getting their braces off, many children will need to wear a retainer for several years, sometimes even into adulthood.

“Teeth will always have a tendency to drift throughout life,” he said.

It’s not your child’s fault

Damon said most orthodontic problems result from bad genetics.

“It’s rare that the need for orthodontics is due to a habit, or something the patient did wrong,” he said. Still, Damon cautions that children who undergo orthodontic treatment need to maintain good oral hygiene.

“Regular brushing and flossing are critical,” he said. “Straight teeth with cavities aren’t good for anyone.”