Free Dental Braces? Can My Child Get Them?

children teeth with braces
Ridgway Dental
02, Mar 2020

Can My Child Get Free Braces?

If your child has developed an orthodontic problem, it may come as a shock to discover that free dental braces are no longer routinely available on the NHS. Cost-cutting measures have resulted in thousands of youngsters being denied free orthodontic treatment.

The cutbacks go back to 2000 when the Department of Health published a document called Modernising Orthodontic Services. This shake-up introduced a ranking system, with only the most serious orthodontic issues qualifying for free NHS treatment for under-18s.

Even if your child is approved for NHS orthodontics, the only treatment is with old-style fixed metal braces – popular state-of-the-art options such as less conspicuous, more comfortable, removable plastic aligners are out of the question unless you go private.

Which Children Do Get Free Braces?

The criteria for deciding whether your child can get free braces is based on a system called the Index of Orthodontic Treatment Need (IOTN), which means that braces are only free in cases such as:

  • Pronounced protrusion of upper or lower front teeth.
  • Severe crowding of teeth.
  • Many missing teeth.
  • Impacted teeth – unable to emerge through the gums.
  • Certain bite irregularities that cause problems with eating.

This rules out your child for free braces if they have less severe teeth protrusion or other “minor” irregularities.

In some borderline cases, NHS treatment may be available if your child’s orthodontic problem is deemed to be detrimental to their appearance. The British Orthodontic Society (BOS) says this reflects the NHS’s recognition that some youngsters need orthodontic care for aesthetic reasons.

Orthodontic Assessment Options

free dental braces for children
close up – bad crooked teeth of girl

Free orthodontic treatment is available only to children with “a real clinical need” to have their teeth straightened.

Your child’s dentist can refer them for a free NHS orthodontic assessment, using the Index of Orthodontic Treatment Need system to determine whether straightening their teeth would be beneficial medically – or purely cosmetically.

Alternatively, you can send your child directly for private orthodontic assessment – you don’t need to be referred by your child’s dentist.

The British Orthodontic Society says children should have their first orthodontic evaluation from the ages of seven to 11, while their jaws and teeth are still developing.

How Long Does It Take to Get Free Braces?

If your child qualifies for free braces, you’ll likely find there’s a long waiting list for orthodontic treatment because of high demand and in some areas only a handful of NHS trained orthodontists.

According to the NHS, waiting times for free orthodontic treatment for children can vary from six months to two years or more. Other sources cite cases where children have had to wait six years to get braces.

These long waiting lists have resulted in many parents turning to private orthodontic treatment to avoid oral health issues that could otherwise plague their children into adulthood.

Even the NHS appears to encourage parents to seek private orthodontic therapy for their children, according to the Mail on Sunday, which in 2018 reported that at least 20,000 youngsters a year were being denied free treatment for severely crooked teeth.

Benefits of Private Orthodontic Treatment for Children

free dental braces for children
A closeup of a cute teenaged girl with braces

If your child has been denied free braces or you’re frustrated with seemingly endless NHS waiting lists, private orthodontic care offers multiple advantages, including:

  • Fast treatment – no waiting list.
  • Early intervention to avoid more serious orthodontic problems in later life.
  • Correction of orthodontic issues not covered by the NHS.
  • High level of aftercare that may not be available through the NHS.
  • More flexible appointment times.
  • Payment plans to help spread the cost of treatment.

While NHS orthodontic treatment for children is limited to highly-visible metal “train-track” braces, private orthodontic care offers a choice of discreet appliances, such as:

  • Clear aligners like Invisalign – made from medical-grade clear plastic that, as the name suggests, is practically invisible. These aligners can be removed for meals and snacks, and for brushing and flossing, which can be tricky with fixed metal braces.
  • Lingual braces – with brackets that fit subtly onto the back of teeth.
  • Ceramic braces – with tooth-coloured brackets.

Crucial Role of Orthodontic Treatment for Children

The NHS says about one-third of children need orthodontic therapy but Department of Health rules deny treatment for thousands of youngsters with crooked teeth.

Misaligned teeth can damage self-regard as your child develops, and make oral hygiene difficult, posing an increased risk of tooth decay and gum infection.

Timely intervention by an orthodontic expert can spare your child from serious, long-term oral health problems and ensure that any treatment needed at a later age is less intensive.  Children’s orthodontics can also achieve results far better than those possible once their face and jaw are fully grown.

Early treatment of orthodontic problems is key to giving your child the self-assurance that comes with being able to show off their smile with confidence. It will also pave the way for a lifetime of strong, healthy teeth.

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