You might assume orthodontic care is only for kids as they progress into their teens but visiting an orthodontist at an earlier age can provide a host of benefits for your child.
Orthodontists can detect issues with the development of the jaw and emerging teeth while your youngster still has some baby teeth, and the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends an orthodontic evaluation no later than the age of seven.
The AAO advice is based on the fact that around this age the first set of adult molars and some of the permanent front teeth will have emerged.
These are key features in your child’s dental development and an orthodontist can determine how your youngster’s bite is likely to progress over following years. Using X-rays or digital imaging, an orthodontist can see whether your child is missing any developing permanent teeth and determine any deviations from standard tooth eruption.
This doesn’t mean that your child will immediately be fitted with braces but it gives the orthodontist the opportunity to identify any developing problems.
Even if all appears well with your child’s teeth, there may be a problem that only an orthodontist can spot. This will enable early intervention as the mouth develops, which can result in less treatment later.
If the initial orthodontic assessment reveals no problems, you and your youngster get the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that their oral development is on the right track. If there are signs of potential issues, your orthodontist can start to plan ahead.
Treatment for misaligned teeth or a bite misfunction typically won’t start until one to five years after the initial evaluation, with the correction of problems affecting the permanent teeth.
Signs That Your Child May Need Early Orthodontic Assessment and Treatment
Indications that your child may need orthodontic care at an early age include:
- Speech impediment.
- Unusual movement of the jaw when opening or closing their mouth.
- Thumb or finger sucking after the age of five.
- Loss of primary teeth before the age of five.
- The teeth don’t come together properly when biting.
- Snoring and/or breathing through the mouth.
- Crowded front teeth, usually noticeable when the child is seven or eight.
- Protruding front teeth.
- Biting or chewing difficulties.
- Facial imbalance
- Clenching or grinding of the teeth.
- A protruding upper or lower jaw.
Orthodontic Problems That Can Affect Young Children
Many orthodontic issues can be spotted when a child is still young.
Teeth can be shifted out of correct alignment if a child develops habits like tongue thrusting or thumb sucking. These and other orthodontic problems generally become apparent around the age of seven years, when the first permanent teeth have started to emerge.
Another problem that may affect a young child is abnormal tooth eruption when a tooth grows into the wrong place. If the tooth is prevented from fully emerging (impaction), minor surgery may be needed before orthodontic treatment can begin.
Other problems include crowding, when the teeth are too big or the jaws too small, and excessive spacing, which can be caused when one or more teeth don’t grow in or are lost through trauma or decay, resulting in nearby teeth moving out of position.
Early orthodontic treatment can also address problems with the bite function, such as crossbite, overbite or underbite.
Orthodontic treatment at a young age starts while the child’s jaw bones are still pliable – they don’t harden until the late teen years. This means corrective procedures work more quickly than for adolescents and adults.
Giving Your Youngster the Best Chance of a Healthy Smile
An orthodontic assessment at a young age will give your child the best chance for a healthy smile by enabling the orthodontist to plan for potential treatments such as:
- Guiding permanent teeth into correct position.
- Improving how the lips meet.
- Guiding jaw growth.
- Reducing the risk of trauma to protruding front teeth.
- Correction of unhealthy oral habits.
Early orthodontic treatment can take several forms.
Your youngster’s orthodontist may prescribe a fixed or removable appliance to shift teeth or correct the alignment of the jaw. Sometimes devices like braces aren’t necessary. Removal of some primary teeth may help the permanent teeth to emerge in the right place.
When orthodontic treatment takes place while a child’s jaw is still growing, a palatal expander may be used to address issues with the upper dental arch. In some cases, early orthodontic treatment can achieve results that may be impossible once the mouth and jaw have fully developed.
Health Benefits of Early Orthodontic Care
While early orthodontic care is important for your child’s appearance and dental health, it can also improve their overall wellbeing.
Twenty percent of youngsters in the U.S. aged five to 11 have at least one untreated cavity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although children rarely get periodontitis (gum disease), they can develop gingivitis (gum inflammation).
Properly aligned teeth are easier to clean for a youngster, and good at-home oral health care at a young age is imperative to avoid issues such as cavities and gum infections, which can cause problems in other parts of the body.
Finding the Right Dental Practice for Your Child’s First Orthodontic Visit
Early orthodontic treatment means cleaner teeth, fewer procedures, and less expensive for you. It also gives your youngster the best chance of a healthy smile, avoiding the embarrassment of crooked teeth.
Early orthodontic care can also mean less treatment later. Steering your child’s teeth into the proper position can avoid extractions in the future. Dealing with any problems before they become serious also has financial benefits for you – no costly and lengthy treatments in the future.
Your child may be apprehensive about their first visit to the orthodontist so find a practice that’s experienced in putting youngsters at ease. An orthodontic office that’s family friendly and oriented towards children will go a long way toward making your youngster feel comfortable and relaxed.
For instance, Hi 5 Orthodontics runs a Hi 5 Club for young patients who’re not yet ready for treatment. This allows the orthodontic team to monitor their jaw development and pattern of teeth eruption. In this free program, your child will get a Hi 5 Orthodontic T-shirt and a Hi 5 Club Patient Rewards Hub Card.