Orthodontic treatments are most commonly associated with pre-teens and teenagers. However, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends children receive their first orthodontic check-up around the age of seven. In cases where obvious irregularities are noted, treatment may be sought at an earlier age.
Most orthodontists agree that there is an optimal time for treating malocclusion (bad bites) and irregularities in the face and jaw. While an early orthodontic check-up does not mean that treatment will begin immediately, or even that it will become necessary, some irregularities are more easily corrected before jaw growth is complete, making it imperative to have problems detected early.
Irregularities in Pediatric Dental Development
Orthodontic problems can sometimes be invisible to the untrained eye. An orthodontist is highly skilled at detecting the smallest clues of irregularities and misalignment. Irregularities are most often a result of genetic factors, but can be exacerbated by poor nutrition, poor oral hygiene and thumb sucking.
There is no substitute for an orthodontic examination, but here are some common signs that irregularity may become a possibility:
Finger or thumb sucking
Chewing or biting problems
Teeth that do not meet or that meet irregularly
Clicking or shifting jaws
Later or earlier loss of baby teeth than normal
How Can an Orthodontist Help my Child?
The orthodontist may take one of several approaches when dealing with children. In some cases, malocclusions or irregularities are carefully monitored and are addressed at a later date. The ideal time to initiate treatment varies with each individual child and is based on their unique diagnosis.
Early orthodontic treatment is beneficial to reduce the amount and duration of later treatment, preventing more complex conditions from occurring. Through early intervention, the orthodontist is able to correct habits that lead to acquired irregularities, increase the confidence of the child, guide the growth of the jawbone, and decrease the risk of injury to protruding teeth.
Types of Early Orthodontic Intervention
The goal of early intervention and treatment is to ensure that more serious problems do not develop in the future. If an irregularity is allowed to progress, there is a chance that later treatment will be more complicated. Your oral health professional can improve the appearance of your child’s teeth and jaw, guide jaw growth, and provide advice and support on correcting poor oral habits.
Early intervention tends to fall into three main categories: preventive, interceptive and comprehensive. Here is a brief overview of each type of treatment to better exemplify how complicated problems can be avoided:
The goal of preventive treatment is to avoid the development of malocclusion in a normally developing mouth. Your dental professional may remove a baby tooth to create space for the corresponding adult tooth to erupt. Conversely, if a baby tooth has been lost too early, a space retainer appliance will hold that space for the corresponding adult tooth.
Interceptive treatments aim to reduce the complexity of a developing problem and eliminate the cause where possible. The ideal candidate for interceptive treatment usually has a mixture of adult and baby teeth. Your dental provider is able to alter the size of the teeth, remove longstanding baby teeth and create space for erupting adult teeth.
Comprehensive treatments are commonly used to correct growth irregularities. When the teeth are completely misaligned or the jaws are functioning poorly, orthodontic treatment may be combined with jaw surgery, tooth extractions or restorative surgery. Comprehensive treatment can begin prior to the loss of baby teeth, with several phases of such treatment required to optimize benefits.
If you have any questions or concerns about early orthodontic treatment, please contact your dental care provider.