Benefits of Going to the Orthodontist Early
Detection of subtle problems with teeth and jaw development in a young child can help to prevent more serious issues in the future, enabling early treatment to guide facial and jaw growth, prevent damage to protruding teeth and ensure that permanent teeth emerge properly.
Children generally begin to get their adult teeth aged around seven years old, and it’s a time when orthodontic problems may start to develop. This is why the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) advises parents to make sure kids get an orthodontic assessment by this age.
Early treatment (interceptive or phase one orthodontics) while the jaw is still growing and the teeth developing can correct crowding of the teeth and bite problems. It also ensures there’s room for permanent teeth to come in properly, lessening the chance of tooth loss in the future.
Interceptive treatment typically entails orthodontic appliances such as partial braces to guide developing jaw bones and create a better environment for the permanent teeth as they emerge.
Children who get interceptive orthodontic treatment will usually need full braces or other orthodontic appliances later but this second-phase treatment may well be shortened and simplified.
Common Orthodontic Issues in Kids
Common issues requiring early orthodontics are protruding front teeth, crowding, crossbites, overbites, open bites, and underbites.
Fifteen percent of children in the U.S. aged 12 to 15 have protruding teeth, which is one of the most common issues treated by orthodontists.
Braces or aligners are typically used to move protruding teeth back into the correct position. Research by the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics (AJO-DO) found that one in three children aged six to ten treated for severe cases of teeth protrusion were more likely to later avoid dental trauma such as having a permanent tooth knocked out.
If teeth are crowded, the problem can get worse over time, resulting in teeth that are markedly crooked. This can lead to a build-up of plaque, raising the danger of gum infection and tooth decay.
Partial braces can be fitted to the four front teeth if they are crowded, and the teeth can be straightened relatively quickly, within three to six months. Space maintainers can help to ensure that posterior adult teeth emerge properly.
With a crossbite, misalignment of the dental arches can cause the jaws to grow unevenly, and the upper teeth to bite on the inside of the lower teeth, which can wear down the teeth and cause gum disease (periodontitis).
Early use of a palatal expander can be used to rectify crossbites. Fixed with bonding or cemented bands to the upper molars, the expander creates a wider space in the upper jaw to enlarge a child’s upper dental arch, giving the adult teeth a better chance of emerging in the correct position. Early expansion can also correct the problem of the lower jaw shifting to one side.
A deep overbite is when the upper front teeth overlap the lower front teeth and can cause significant jaw and teeth issues, as well as affect the facial appearance. Overbites are easier to fix in young children because their jaws are not fully developed, and braces are usually effective.
If your youngster has an open bite, the lower and upper teeth don’t make contact properly, which can cause discomfort when eating and problems in speaking distinctly. It can also lead to more serious issues such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which affects the muscles and joints between the base of the skull and lower jaw. An open bite in a young child can be treated with braces and headgears.
Many underbite problems are a result of the upper jaw failing to grow forward. The good news is that these maxillary bones are easy to reshape in young children, with a maxillary protraction device such as an upper jaw expander to ensure the jaw develops as it should.
Warning Signs of Orthodontic Problems
There are several signs that can help you to determine whether your youngster could benefit from early orthodontics. These include:
- Loss of baby teeth before the age of five.
- Thumb-sucking after five years old.
- Biting or chewing difficulties.
- Snoring or breathing through the mouth.
- Protruding front teeth.
- Speech impairment.
- Crowded teeth.
Dental Braces and Aligners for Youngsters
Many teeth protrusion, crowding and bite issues in young children can be treated with conventional braces or removable, clear aligners such as Invisalign.
Traditional metal braces are regarded as better for correcting severe crowding of the teeth. Ceramic braces are similar to metal braces but have tooth-colored or clear brackets that blend in with the teeth.
State-of-the-art Invisalign aligners are practically invisible and have become the most popular removable brace.
Paving the Way for a Healthy Future
Early treatment for orthodontic issues lays the foundation for a healthy, fully-functional mouth in adulthood. For instance, early intervention when the jaws and dental arches are not positioned properly can help to avoid more complex and lengthy treatment in the future.
A child’s jaw bones won’t harden until they reach their late teens. Because these bones are still pliable, orthodontic procedures work faster and more effectively than they do for adults.
Interceptive orthodontics requires a trained, experienced orthodontist with the expertise to determine the most appropriate course of treatment and the best time to begin that treatment. Look for an orthodontist whose skills are recognized by the American Association of Orthodontists and who specializes in early treatment for children.
A skilled orthodontist will carry out an in-depth examination, including the use of digital X-rays, to determine the condition of the teeth and gums and development of the jaw, and making sure that any permanent teeth are emerging as they should.
If orthodontic problems are detected at an early age, it doesn’t necessarily mean that treatment should start immediately. When deciding on the best treatment plan in consultation with your child’s orthodontist, be sure to raise any questions or concerns you may have so you can make an informed decision on the timing of treatment.