Many people think the correct age for a child to visit an orthodontist is in the preteen or teen years. However, this is a common misconception, and we will address why in hopes of providing clarity on the subject for you and your family.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children have an initial evaluation with an orthodontist at the age of 7. This may seem strange to you since children this age still have a number of baby teeth and a mouth that is still developing. But the point of the evaluation is not so we can put braces on your child at an early age. In fact, we only recommend orthodontic treatment in a handful of children we see at this age.
So what is the reason? This appointment is valuable to identify potential orthodontic issues or orthodontic issues that may already be present. By having our experienced orthodontic team examine your young child, these issues can be caught early, before they become problematic. This, in essence, is the reason for early evaluation. Let’s take a look at what we’ll examine during this initial assessment.
Tooth loss and eruption
Around age 6 or 7, you child should have a mix of baby teeth and permanent teeth as well as the first set of adult molars, appropriately nicknamed the “six-year-molars.” If your child has more or less than this, there’s a potential for problems regarding missing, crowding, or extra teeth. Sometimes removing a primary tooth early, or maintaining a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely, can prevent more serious problems down the road.
Baby teeth, also known as primary teeth, are the placeholders for permanent ones. The transition from primary to permanent is an important one, with most baby teeth falling out in a relatively specific order. If there’s any significant deviation from that pattern, it could signal a developmental issue that needs attention.
Crowding and spacing
In this initial evaluation, we will be able to tell if your child already has or will have problems with excessive crowding or spacing of the teeth. Spacing issues can show up when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or if your child has teeth that are too small or too spaced apart. Crowding, in most cases, can be treated by expanding the arches or removing teeth to open up the mouth.
We treat plenty of patients who are successfully able to have their teeth aligned at an older age. It’s important to note, however, that crooked teeth are more susceptible to uneven damage and wear. Allowing them to go untreated for years can affect the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue, which compromises it. Correcting crooked teeth at an early age paves the way for healthier gums, a straighter smile, and has the added benefit of improving your child’s self-esteem.
Overbite or protrusive front teeth
While there are cosmetic concerns with front teeth that obviously protrude, there can be additional physical concerns, as well. Overbites can cause pain in the jaw, and even possible speech issues. Sometimes we need to wait to permanently correct an overbite until your child’s mouth has finished growing. However, we can help reduce the severity of the problem in the meantime.
Underbites are generally caused by either tooth or jaw problems, and in more severe cases, the lower jaw grows too far forward. As with overbites, we’ll typically need to wait until your child has finished growing to finish the treatment. This usually happens around the age of sixteen. Even though there’s a waiting period involved, receiving early treatment is highly recommended. To avoid bite-shifting and damage to the front teeth, we’ll want to try to normalize the bite as much and as early as possible.
Underbite patients who receive early treatment between the ages of about 7 and 10 are much less likely to need jaw surgery at a later stage of development.
A posterior crossbite is when the top back teeth bite down inside the bottom back teeth. It occurs when the top teeth or jaw are narrower than the bottom teeth and can happen on one or both sides of the mouth. A posterior crossbite can cause crowding and jaw shifting. If we are able to catch this in an early evaluation, we can work on expanding the upper jaw between the ages of about 7 and 10. This will reduce crowding, and create the kind of space needed for the front teeth to erupt. Expansion can also eliminate any shifting that’s present due to the upper jaw being constricted.
Anterior open bites and deep bites
An anterior open bite in one in which the front teeth fail to touch and there is not enough overlap. This can be caused by habits such as thumb-sucking or long-term pacifier use. With bites that are too deep, the top teeth completely cover the bottom ones, which could indicate a small lower jaw. These bite problems are recognizable by the time your child is around the age of 7, and in many cases, behavior modification can lead to self-correction when caught early.
Early treatment with Craig & Streight Orthodontics
Here at Craig & Streight Orthodontics, we’re big believers in preventative orthodontic care. By having our experienced orthodontic team examine your child around the age of 7, potential complications can be caught early which, in turn, can save you money and give your child the best opportunity for a healthy, beautiful smile. If you’re in the Norman, Mustang, or Oklahoma City areas, and have a child who is under or around 7 years old, get in touch with us today! Craig & Streight Orthodontics recognizes that the best dental and orthodontic care begins with world-class communication, and we specialize in making our patients feel right at home. To us, you’re more than just a patient – you’re family!