Orthodontics can play a key role in children’s health and appearance. The American Association of Orthodontics1 (AAO) advises parents that kids should first visit an orthodontist for an examination by the time they’re seven. This recommendation is based on the fact that at about this age, the first set of permanent molars and some of the adult front teeth should have appeared.
While your child’s teeth may appear to be straight, there may be underlying issues such as:
- A misaligned bite.
- Problems with the way permanent teeth are emerging.
- Tooth crowding.
- Issues resulting from habits like thumb sucking.
An orthodontic evaluation at an early age can detect problems like these and begin rectifying them to avoid potential future issues with adult teeth.
Using digital imaging or X-rays, an orthodontist can determine whether your youngster is missing any developing permanent teeth and see any deviations from regular tooth eruption.
By the time your youngster is seven, sufficient permanent teeth have emerged for an orthodontist to assess the relationships developing between their teeth, jaw and bite function, and ensure these developments proceed as they should.
This sometimes necessitates braces at a later date. In other cases, parents get the peace of mind that comes with knowing their child’s oral development is on track.
Treatment for a bite disorder or crooked teeth usually won’t begin until a few years after the initial diagnosis, when it becomes possible to rectify issues affecting the permanent teeth.
Problems Requiring Early Orthodontic Treatment
Common issues requiring early orthodontics2 are protruding front teeth, crowding, overbites, open bites, crossbites, and underbites.
Fifteen percent of youngsters in the U.S. aged 12 to 15 have protruding teeth. Braces or aligners are generally used to shift these teeth back into the proper position.
If teeth are overcrowded, the issue can get worse with time, resulting in teeth that are noticeably crooked. Partial braces can be fitted to the four front teeth if they are crowded, and the teeth can be straightened relatively quickly, within three to six months.
A deep overbite – when the upper front teeth overlap the lower front teeth – can cause serious jaw and teeth issues, and also spoil the facial appearance. Overbites are easier to fix in young children because their jaws are not fully developed.
If your child has an open bite, the lower and upper teeth don’t make proper contact. This can cause discomfort when eating and problems in speaking. It can also lead to more serious issues such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), which affects the muscles and joints between the base of the skull and lower jaw.
With a crossbite, misalignment of the dental arches can cause the jaws to grow unevenly, and the upper teeth to bite on the inside of the lower teeth, which can wear down the teeth and cause gum problems.
Many underbite problems are a result of the upper jaw failing to grow forward. These maxillary bones are easy to reshape in young children, with a maxillary protraction device such as an upper jaw expander.
How Early Orthodontics Can Help Your Child
If your youngster does need early orthodontic treatment, it can prevent issues by:
Ensuring enough room for permanent teeth to grow in. A child’s face and jaw grow fast, like the rest of their body. Early orthodontic treatment allows monitoring and guiding of jaw development to avoid crowding as adult teeth appear.
Achieving facial symmetry. Jaw growth affects the overall shape of the face. Guiding that growth helps to get an aesthetically-pleasing appearance.
Decreasing the likelihood of future tooth extraction. When permanent teeth grow in crowded, the possibility of extraction increases greatly. The best way to avoid this is to start early check-ups as permanent teeth emerge, so any abnormalities can be spotted at their onset.
Helping youngsters to be more aware of the importance of dental health. This can help to guarantee a lifetime of good oral care habits.
Indications of Orthodontic Issues in Young Children
The transition from primary teeth to permanent teeth is critical. Primary teeth pave the way for adult teeth. Signs that something may be amiss include early or late loss of primary teeth.
Other symptoms of potential orthodontic problems are if your youngster:
- Has trouble speaking.
- Has difficulty chewing.
- Breathes through the mouth.
- Sucks their thumb.
- Has crowded teeth.
- Has a jaw that makes sounds or shifts around.
- Has jaws that appear too far back or too far forward.
- Bites the roof of their mouth or their cheek.
- Has upper and lower teeth that meet abnormally.
- Has a facial imbalance.
- Clenches or grinds their teeth.
In cases like these, an orthodontist may plan treatment in stages, including:
Phase 1 Orthodontic Treatment
The first stage of orthodontic treatment for young children may include regulating the width of the dental arches and ensuring permanent teeth have sufficient room to develop.
This preventive treatment lessens the need for tooth extraction and reduces the risk of impacted permanent teeth – when teeth become wedged beneath the gum or only partially break through.
It can also help in correcting:
- Speech problems.
- Thumb sucking,
- Irregular swallowing.
Phase 2 Orthodontic Treatment
Phase 2 treatment ensures each tooth is properly positioned in relation to the tongue, lips, cheeks and other teeth. Managing tooth location maximizes the chances of an attractive smile.
Avoiding Problems in the Future
Diagnosis of subtle issues with jaw and teeth development in a young child can help to avoid more serious problems in the future, allowing for early treatment to guide jaw and facial development, prevent damage to protruding teeth, and ensure that adult teeth have room to emerge through the gum properly.
Children who undergo early orthodontic treatment will generally require full braces or other oral appliances later but this second phase of treatment is likely to be simpler and shorter.
That’s why it’s worth bearing in mind that, according to the experts, kids should first visit an orthodontist by the age of seven.