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. While most children will not need treatment at this age, it is best to allow the orthodontist to evaluate if and when your child will need orthodontic treatment in the future.
Early treatment (also known as Phase One) typically begins around age eight or nine (Phase Two/Comprehensive treatment 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 an underbite or a crossbite. 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 or six, and will have all permanent teeth around age 13)
- Difficulty chewing and/or biting
- Mouth breathing
- Your child continues sucking his or her 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 his or her mouth (crossbites)
- Crowded front teeth around age seven or eight
Most Common Early Treatments
Palate Expansion: When your child's upper jaw (maxilla) is too narrow and not as wide as the lower jaw (mandible), this can often lead to a crossbite, where the lower teeth sit outside the upper teeth. If left untreated, this can lead to jaw/facial asymmetry. A palate expander is a device that works best in younger children to help the upper jaw expand so that it will fit the lower jaw.
Space Maintenance: If your child loses any baby teeth early, or has them extracted early by your dentist for any reason, having a space maintainer placed may be necessary to prevent future crowding. Some children who have severe crowding may also benefit from a space maintainer even if they have not had early tooth loss. In this situation, it may help prevent the crowding from becoming more severe.
What causes orthodontic problems, and how will early prevention benefit my child?
Orthodontic problems such as crowding of the teeth, too much space between the teeth, 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/finger-sucking habits.
Most children lose all their baby teeth by age 12/13, and by the end of their teen years, the jaw bones will harden and stop growing. Orthodontic procedures for adults may take more time and no longer can use the jaw growth to aid treatment. 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 if 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.