Early Orthodontic Treatment for Children
What is the difference between early orthodontic treatment and regular orthodontic treatment, and why might my child need early treatment? How will early treatment benefit my child in the long run?
These are just a few of the questions surrounding the topic of early orthodontic treatment for children. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children see an orthodontist as early as age seven. At this point, the orthodontist will evaluate whether your child will need orthodontic treatment.
Early treatment (also known as Phase-One) typically begins around age eight or nine. Phase-Two will begin around age 11 or older. The goal of early treatment is to correct the growth of the jaw and certain bite problems, such as underbite. Early treatment also helps to make room for permanent teeth to come in properly, lessening the chance of extractions in the future.
How to tell if your child may need early orthodontic treatment
- Early or late loss of baby teeth (your child should typically start losing teeth around age five, and will have all the permanent teeth around age 13)
- Difficulty chewing and/or biting
- Mouth breathing
- Your child continues to suck a thumb after age five
- Speech impediments
- Protruding teeth (the top teeth and the bottom teeth extend away from each other)
- Teeth that don’t come together in a normal manner or even at all
- Shifting of the jaw when your child opens or closes the mouth (crossbites)
- Crowded front teeth around age seven or eight
What causes orthodontic problems, and how will early prevention benefit my child?
Orthodontic problems such as crowding of the teeth, too much space between them, jaw growth problems, protruding teeth, and bad bites can be inherited or caused by injury to the mouth, early or late loss of baby teeth, or thumb-sucking habits.
Most children lose all their baby teeth by age 13. By the end of their teen years, the jaw bones will harden and stop growing. Orthodontic procedures for adults often take more time and can involve tooth extraction or oral surgery. Receiving early orthodontic treatment as a child can help prevent the need for orthodontics as an adult, leaving little to no chance of extraction or surgery in the future.
If your child is between the ages of seven and eight and shows signs of needing orthodontic care, or you have been directed by your family dentist to visit the orthodontist, please contact our practice and schedule an appointment. Our team will provide your child with an initial exam, and discuss with you the best steps to take toward caring for your child’s smile.
Why should children have an orthodontic screening no later than age 7?
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children have an initial orthodontic screening by the age of 7. By this age, all the permanent incisors (front teeth) as well as the permanent first molars should have erupted. If inadequate space exists, some of these teeth could become impacted. An evaluation at this time helps identify problems with eruptions.
Also at this time, we can evaluate growth discrepancies of the jaws, crossbites (when upper teeth hit inside the lower teeth), crowding, and the development of injury-prone dental protrusions. An early orthodontic screening enables us to advise you if treatment will even be necessary, and if so, determine the best time for your child to be treated. There is no charge for an initial examination or for supervision reassessment examinations.
Some signs or habits that may indicate the need for an early orthodontic examination include early or late loss of baby teeth, difficulty in chewing or biting, mouth breathing, thumb or finger sucking, crowding, displaced or blocked-out teeth, repeated biting of the cheek or roof of the mouth, teeth that meet abnormally or not at all, jaws or teeth that are out of proportion to one another, and a smile that is not symmetrical.
What are the benefits of an early evaluation and possible treatment?
For young patients who have clear indications for early orthodontic intervention, this type of treatment presents an opportunity to:
- Guide the growth of the jaws
- Regulate the width of the upper and lower dental arches
- Guide erupting permanent teeth to desirable positions
- Lower the risk of traumatic injury to protruded upper incisors (front teeth)
- Help eliminate harmful oral habits such as thumb or finger sucking which can cause openbites
- Reduce or eliminate abnormal swallowing or some speech problems
- Improve personal appearance and self-esteem
- Potentially simplify and/or shorten treatment time for later comprehensive orthodontics
- Reduce likelihood of impacted permanent teeth (teeth that should have come in, but have not), and preserve or gain space for permanent teeth that are appearing