In the pursuit of the perfect smile, there’s one giant hurdle that your kids will have to overcome: braces. Although your child is, of course, perfect in your eyes, you know they’ll need braces to straighten out their teeth and feel confident when they flash their pearly whites.

The only issue is, there’s no set age at which you should send your kids to the orthodontist. That’s where this guide comes in. Read on to find out when the right time is for you and your child to begin the braces process.

Why Do They Need Braces, Anyway?

Let’s start at the very beginning. You might be looking at your smiling child and wondering why they need braces in the first place. It turns out that even a superficially beautiful smile can have issues that orthodontic treatment will correct.

Your child might be suffering from a malocclusion, or a “bad bite.” This means their jaw or their teeth are out of alignment, and an orthodontic treatment could pull everything back to its intended place. On top of that, see the orthodontist if your child breathes through their mouth, has difficulty breathing or chewing, or if their jaw clicks when it moves.

Surprisingly, habits from your kiddo’s past can also come back to bite them — pun intended. For instance, thumb-sucking can push their teeth out of alignment, which makes the toddler-era habit a precursor to braces. If you remember your child losing teeth extra early or late for their age, that could be a sign they need braces, too.

The good news is that your dentist will be able to point out these signs to you during a checkup. Plus, they probably have a go-to orthodontist to whom they will refer you — no need to do major research to find the perfect practitioner.

How Old Should They Be?

It might seem as though most children get their braces around the same age: during the gloriously awkward junior high years, of course. But the truth is that there’s no steadfast guideline about which age is appropriate for braces.

Instead, your child might start seeing an orthodontist long before they get their braces on. The more proactive you are, the better, since your child’s orthodontist might recommend pre-treatments to speed up the entire teeth-aligning process. Perhaps that’s why some orthodontists recommend that you send your little ones for their first appointment at age seven, once their permanent teeth have started coming in. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get braces right then and there. They might begin treatments that will prepare their mouth for braces or reduce overcrowding, for instance.

At the end of the day, people of all ages seek orthodontic treatments. Remember when Tom Cruise rocked braces on the red carpet? Everyone’s orthodontic journey will be different, so don’t feel rushed into it.

Can They Deal With It?

Another truth to consider about braces is that they’re a big responsibility. If you have trouble getting your little ones to brush their teeth in general, they might not be ready to handle the brushing regimen required of braces-wearers. For starters, they’ll have to remove any orthodontic accouterments that don’t adhere directly to their teeth before they can even brush. Then, they’ll have to hold their toothbrush at the right angle before cleaning the braces, then the teeth. They’ll have to floss, too — a task that’s tough for kids before a mouth full of metal is added into the equation.

Of course, there’s an easy workaround to this problem, and that’s you, Mom and Dad. You can listen to the orthodontist’s instructions, take notes and oversee your child’s cleaning routine. You might even have to jump in to help and make sure each step is done properly, but hey — you love that kid. You’ll totally do it.

Chowing down with braces will be a change for your children, too. Again, you’ll probably want to think about whether they’re responsible enough yet. For instance, hard foods like nuts and seeds can break braces brackets with just one hard chomp. A hard popcorn kernel can do the same and little pieces of everyone’s favorite movie theater snacks can get stuck behind metal pieces, too.

To that end, candy is probably public enemy number one as far as your child’s braces are concerned. The sugar can damage teeth that are already tough to clean with metal all over them. Then, there are the sticky candies — think toffee or taffy — that’ll stick to braces, pull out brackets, etc. If you don’t think your child will be wise enough to avoid these temptations on their own, you might want to hold off on expensive orthodontic treatment.

It’s Worth It, Though — We Promise

Some of this has made the entire braces process sound like a headache. There will certainly be moments where you’ll think back — maybe even on this article — and wonder, “Why did I agree to this?” But the reality is that the entire process will be so worth it to see a smiling, confident child at the end of the road. It all starts with that first appointment, and you’ll know when they’re ready and responsible enough. You’re their parent, after all.