Did you know that earlier may be better than later? According to the American Association of Orthodontists, kids should have an initial orthodontic screening by age seven. What makes early evaluation — and potentially, early treatment — so important?
There are several ways that kids can benefit from seeing an orthodontist at an early age. But it’s important to recognize that early evaluation isn’t necessarily followed by early treatment. In most cases, if orthodontic work is needed, we simply monitor your child’s growth patterns until we see that it’s time for treatment to begin. This gives us an opportunity to get the best results in the most efficient way, and to help prevent future problems.
Although every child’s development is different, in most kids the first adult molars have typically started to emerge by around age six. This, along with other developmental markers, lets us get a handle on the basic alignment of the teeth, from front to back and side to side. It may also be possible at this point to determine whether there is adequate room in the mouth for all of the permanent teeth, and if not, to take action.
WHEN EARLY TREATMENT IS BETTER
Treatment for common orthodontic problems typically begins around age 9-14, when all of the baby teeth are gone and many of the permanent ones are in place. There are some conditions that are much easier to treat if they’re caught at an early age, when a child’s natural growth processes are going full speed ahead.
Crossbite is a condition where the upper teeth close inside the lower teeth. To treat this problem, a device called a palatal expander can be used, which gradually and painlessly widens the upper jaw, which is especially effective when the jaw itself hasn’t fully developed. If we wait too long, a more complicated treatment — or even oral surgery — might be required to correct the problem.
Severe crowding occurs when the jaws are too small to accommodate all of the permanent teeth. In order to help the adult teeth emerge from below the gums properly, a palatal expansion or tooth extraction may be recommended. Even if braces are required later, the treatment time will likely be shorter and less complicated.
Protruding teeth, especially in front, can be prone to chipping and fractures; they may also lead to problems with a child’s self-image. Orthodontic appliances, including braces and headgear, can be used to correct these problems when the child’s development is in full swing. Early intervention for protruding teeth decreases the chances that surgery will be needed.
An open bite is a term used to describe when the upper and lower teeth are unable to make physical contact with each other when the jaws are closed. Open bite, which impacts the ability to chew properly, may be caused by a number of unwanted habits, such as tongue thrusting or thumb sucking. An early evaluation and intervention is essential in correcting an open bite.
CORRECTING BAD HABITS
At one time or another, anyone may pick up a bad habit. There are some situations where a youngster’s habits can actually influence the development and function of his or her teeth, jaws and mouth. Some examples of these are persistent thumb sucking, tongue thrusting and mouth breathing. Various orthodontic treatments are available to help correct these parafunctional habits and the sooner they’re taken care of, the less damage they may cause. These potential problems aren’t always easy to recognize. That’s one more reason why you should bring your child in for an early orthodontic screening.
Mouth breathing – an abnormal breathing pattern in which the mouth always remains open, passing air directly to the lungs — is related to alterations in the muscular function of the tongue and face. It may cause the upper and lower jaw to grow abnormally, which can lead to serious orthodontic problems. Although mouth breathing may start from a physical difficulty, it can become a habitual action that’s hard to break.