National Dental Centre seeing more cases, with increase attributed to greater awareness

By Linette Lai, The Straits Times

In June last year, 10-year-old Owen Quek began wearing a special headpiece at night to get his teeth into proper alignment.

It was not an aesthetic decision. His lower front teeth stuck out over his upper teeth and dentists feared that, if left untreated, Owen would have to undergo jaw surgery when older.

The National Dental Centre Singapore is treating more children with such problems that cannot be solved with regular braces. In 2015, it saw 120 such children aged 12 and below. Last year, the number more than doubled to 259.

Many cases - including Owen's - involve special equipment to help shift the position of a child's jaw as it grows or change the way the teeth fit together.

This could be because the child's lower front teeth stick out over the upper set, or the upper teeth protrude beyond what is normal.

Some children may also have "impacted" teeth, which do not emerge from the gum and need to be drawn out manually.

Dr Song Yi Lin, who is an associate consultant with the orthodontics department at the National Dental Centre Singapore, said that if children miss the chance to correct this problem early on, they may have to undergo jaw surgery eventually, which is more invasive.

In other cases, she added, children may develop gum problems or even lose their teeth.   This is because misaligned teeth can result in excessive wear and tear.   Children may also experience problems with eating and pronunciation.

Dr Ivan Lim, who heads the orthodontics department, attributed the growing number of such cases to greater awareness among parents and school dental clinics.

"We are teaching the dental officers (at the school dental services) how to spot these cases," said Dr Lim, adding that it has placed more emphasis on the issue in the past two years.

"We want to make sure that the children can get timely treatment."

Until recently, Owen had to wear a special headpiece that was braced on his forehead and chin to sleep every night.

Although this was uncomfortable, Owen rarely complained and was cooperative, said his mother Tan Li Yong, 42.

"While the parents can sign up for these things, a lot depends on the child," she noted.

The position of Owen's teeth has now improved, and he no longer needs to wear the headpiece.

"We are not the kind who think you should look perfectly beautiful, or that your teeth should be perfectly straight," said Madam Tan, a public servant. "We were just thinking about the future."