When most people think about orthodontics they think of teenagers with braces. However, various world-leading Orthodontic Associations and Societies recommend that children should be seen by an orthodontist much younger – by the time they are 7 years old. At this age, an orthodontist can check the development of the teeth and jaws and determine whether there are any orthodontic problems that need to be addressed earlier than the teenage years. Depending on the type of orthodontic problems present (if any), the orthodontist will usually monitor your child’s growth and development and indicate the best timing for treatment. Some problems are much easier to treat when your child is still growing so it is better to see an orthodontist early. In some instances, your orthodontist might recommend some interceptive treatment is done when your child is younger.
What should we expect at the first appointment?
At your child’s first orthodontic appointment, the orthodontist will have a thorough look at your child’s jaws, teeth, bite and smile. Usually, as x-ray is taken to check the development of all the teeth, including the unerupted permanent teeth. Sometimes, photos and/or a 3D scan may be taken of your teeth. Your orthodontist will then explain whether there are any orthodontic problems, and if so, what a suitable treatment plan might be including timing and costs.
What are the benefits of early screening?
By checking early for issues with your child’s teeth and bite – while your child is still growing and their jaw bones have not hardened, there are more options available to prevent a problem developing or correcting an existing problem more simply than if it was done after growth was complete. This means that if a problem is detected and can be treated early, it could reduce the future severity or need for orthodontic treatment.
What sort of problems could be addressed with an early visit to an orthodontist?
- Habits such as thumb sucking
- Thumb sucking once the permanent teeth have emerged (around age 7years) can have a permanent and detrimental effect on the teeth. Your orthodontist would detect such habits and advise on methods to stop.
- Depending on the extent and position of crowding, your orthodontist may recommend a space maintainer to prevent further space loss (following early extraction of baby teeth), upper jaw expander (to create more space), or strategic extractions to ensure the remaining teeth erupt correctly.
- Cross bites
- Cross bites are when the top teeth bite on the wrong side of the bottom teeth. This can effect one, or sometimes, multiple teeth. An orthodontist can treat cross bites in the mixed dentition (when there is still a combination of baby and adult teeth) with a plate or partial braces to prevent permanent tooth wear or gum recession of the teeth involved.
- Impacting teeth
- Impacting teeth, usually canines (or “eye teeth”), can be treated much more conservatively if detected early. Early detection can allow management with extraction of some baby teeth alone however, if these are left undetected the treatment can involve surgery and a much longer time in braces.
- Teeth that stick out can be more prone to trauma. Especially in patients where there is a history of dental trauma, orthodontic treatment may be offered early to minimise the risk of further damage to the teeth.
- Tooth wear
- Certain bites, in particular a deep bite, can cause permanent and premature wear of the enamel, especially of the front teeth. Once enamel wears away, it never grows back. While tooth wear occurs in everyone through the later decades of life, the cause can be addressed early to curb the tooth wear before it becomes significant.
- Jaw alignment
- Everyone’s jaws are different sizes. Some people have a small lower jaw relative to the upper jaw (usually seen as buck teeth) and some vice versa (seen as an underbite). While the jaws are still growing, there is an opportunity to try to grow the jaws in the direction needed to reduce the severity of the orthodontic problem. Left too late, such issues may require far more involved treatment including extractions, jaw surgery, etc.
- In children, snoring is surprisingly common and can be due to a number of reasons including reduced airflow through the nose and enlarged tonsils/adenoids. An orthodontist can screen for snoring, and depending on the cause, may be able to aid in improving air flow with orthodontic treatment such as upper jaw expansion or lower jaw advancement plates.
Do you have any concerns about your child’s teeth? It is better that they see an orthodontist sooner rather than later to ensure the highest chance of achieving the optimal orthodontic result for them. Contact us today to arrange an orthodontic consultation for your child.