When Should a Child See an Orthodontist?
The list of things all parents want for their children is a long one. You aim to give your kids a better life, with everything from going to a top-tier school to providing an array of activities that provide lots of positive life lessons.
Hopefully, somewhere on that list is children’s orthodontics. But the critical question is when should you take your child to an orthodontist? As a parent, it’s hard to know whether to wait until there is a visible problem or should all children be assessed for preventative care by an orthodontist?
What Is the Experts Answer?
The expert, in this case, is the American Association of Orthodontists. Although the stereotype for an orthodontic patient is a tween or teen with a shiny smile full of braces, the AAO says orthodontic care should start earlier than that.
At about age 7, children still have their baby teeth and a mouth that is still developing. So, the recommendation is that a child has their first orthodontic evaluation at that age. If treatment is necessary the process will be easier and faster in that developing mouth.
An orthodontist, like you’ll find here at Cook & Gutsche Orthodontics, can catch any emerging issues early. This will set the foundation for their future permanent teeth and still-developing jaws. The goal is to fix any emerging orthodontic problems and perhaps prevent the need for more extensive work later.
What Is the Orthodontist Looking For in Young Children?
So, it’s good to know what to expect at the first visit. When you bring your 7-year old to the orthodontics office, there will be several things the doctor will be checking during this exam.
Crowding and Spacing of the Teeth
By examining the current spacing of teeth of a young child, the orthodontist can tell if there may be problems ahead with crowding or spacing of teeth in the future. The things the doctor may observe to raise this red flag are:
- A tooth lost prematurely.
- A tooth that hasn’t developed at all.
- Smaller than normal teeth or spaced too far apart.
- Teeth that are already crowded.
They will discuss their findings with you and discuss a treatment plan that would work for everyone.
Tooth Loss and Eruption
As children begin to lose their baby teeth, how they transition to adult teeth is important. By starting orthodontic treatment early, a roadmap of sorts will be documented and can then be referenced on later visits.
The doctors will take note of where the baby teeth are located and when they are lost. If there are significant deviations from the regular pattern, it might be a sign of developmental issues that can be addressed early.
At age 7, most children have 4 permanent molars and 2 to 4 permanent incisors. If your child deviates from this significantly, the orthodontist can attend to that earlier rather than later. The exam may show the possibility of extra teeth, crowding, or missing teeth as the permanent teeth try to come in.
The doctor may want to remove a baby tooth early or maintain a space where a lost tooth occurred prematurely. Work like this in a young child is laying the foundation for properly aligned permanent teeth, an important goal for everyone.
The primary reason for dealing with crooked baby teeth is to prevent the gum tissue surrounding these teeth and overall oral health from being affected in the future. Crooked teeth are also likely to become worn or damaged. The orthodontist will correct the crooked teeth, which will protect the gums and prevent excessive wear and tear on the teeth.
Correcting crooked teeth early will also give your children a better smile, something that will improve self-esteem and positive self-image.
This problem has more to do with the development of the jaw than with how the teeth are doing. The lower jaw may be growing too far forward. Based on the exam and then consultation with you, the doctor may choose to wait until your child has finished growing–around age 16–to fix the underbite. In the meantime, as much as possible will be done to avoid problems like bite-shifting and damage to the front teeth, normalizing the bite as much as possible.
There is another option that can treat an underbite in ages 7-10. “Jumping the bite” uses headgear or braces to reduce the risk of more invasive treatment later. The orthodontist will discuss this with you if an underbite is an issue.
Having an overbite, which is protruding front teeth, can cause many issues for children, including:
- Cosmetic issues
- Jaw pain
- Speech problems
The orthodontist, after an examination, may recommend waiting until your child’s mouth is finished growing to permanently correct an overbite. In the meantime, temporary treatment may be prescribed that can help reduce the severity of the misaligned bite.
Posterior and Anterior Bite Issues
Posterior crossbites result in crowding in your child’s mouth. They can also cause the jaw to shift to one side or the other. Caught early by an orthodontist, the upper jaw can be expanded. This creates space for the permanent teeth to come in with enough space.
Anterior bite issues involve bites that are too deep. The top teeth can completely cover the bottom teeth when biting. The cause is a small lower jaw. If bites don’t overlap enough, it may be the result of the child habitually sucking a thumb or finger. Doctors will work with you and the child to eliminate these habits as early as possible so their jaws develop properly.
Early Orthodontic Care Is Essential
Make sure that an early orthodontic evaluation is on the list of things to do for your child’s future. It will give your child the best chance for a healthy, aligned smile and it will save you time and money by averting more painful, costly treatment later.
Our goal at Cook & Gutsche Orthodontics is to develop a positive relationship with your child in a comfortable, pleasing environment. Then we can provide the treatment that may be needed from an early age and give them the beautiful, straight smile they deserve. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about children’s orthodontics.
Contact us to schedule an appointment for your child today!