Early Orthodontic Treatment

You may have heard - or may have even been told as an adult with less-than-perfect teeth - that it is never too late to improve your smile with orthodontic treatment. However, you may not have heard that having your child’s teeth evaluated by an orthodontist at the age of seven is recommended by the American Association of Orthodontists. As a parent, you may wonder why it’s important for your child to visit an orthodontist at this early age, but it may be reassuring to know that early evaluation doesn’t necessarily lead to early treatment.

Orthodontic Problems.

Most children begin to experience the emergence of their first adult molars around the age of six. This, along with other developmental markers, allows the orthodontist to anticipate the alignment of the teeth from side to side as well as from front to back. At this point, it is also possible to determine if there is adequate room for all the permanent teeth. If it looks as though the emergence of the adult teeth will cause crowding, action can be taken to alleviate the situation before it occurs.

If it is determined that orthodontic work is likely needed, your child’s growth and development will simply be monitored until it’s the optimal time to begin treatment. This allows the orthodontist to provide the best possible results in an effective and efficient manner.

Sometimes Earlier is Better

Most orthodontic problems are typically treated beginning between the ages of nine and fourteen years of age. At this point in a child’s development, many of the permanent teeth are in place and the baby teeth are gone. However, because a child’s natural growth processes are accelerated when they are very young, some conditions, including severe crossbite, severe crowding, and protruding teeth, are more easily treated at this time.

Severe crossbite, where the lower teeth envelop most or all of the upper teeth as the mouth closes, is treated using a palatal expander. This device is especially effective when the jaw is not yet fully developed, as it is designed to painlessly and gradually widen the upper jaw. By waiting too long, more complicated treatment may be required to correct this issue.

When a child’s jaws are too small to accommodate all of the permanent teeth, severe crowding may occur. Although braces may still be required, treating this condition with tooth extraction or by expanding the palate earlier rather than later will often result in a shorter, less complicated treatment regimen.

When utilized at an early age, orthodontic appliances including headgear and braces can be used successfully to correct other problems including a severe underbite (which is caused by the upper jaw remaining much smaller than the lower jaw) and protruding teeth. These conditions lead to fractures and chipping, severe bite issues, and problems with a child’s self-image. Additionally, by treating these conditions while the child’s development is at full-speed, surgery can often be avoided.

Addressing Bad Habits

Dangers of Thumb Sucking.

All of us are capable of picking up a bad habit or two. Nevertheless, some parafunctional (outside normal function) habits may have detrimental effects on your child’s teeth, mouth, and jaws. Persistent thumb sucking, mouth breathing, and tongue thrusting can all influence development and function.

The sucking reflex, which is natural in early childhood, usually disappears between the ages of two and four. However, an orthodontic problem called "open bite," where the teeth move apart and the jaw changes shape, can be caused by the pressure of the thumb on the front teeth and upper jaw if this habit persists. This condition can also be caused by tongue thrusting and may impair speech if left untreated.

An abnormal breathing pattern where the mouth always remains open, may initially be caused by a physical difficulty, often becomes a hard-to-break habit. This condition, known simply as "open-mouth breathing" is related to altered facial and tongue muscle function, as well as abnormal growth of the upper and lower jaw.

There are several orthodontic treatments available to help correct these harmful habits - before they cause serious damage; and it may take a professional to recognize the initial onset of these problems. This is yet another reason to schedule an early orthodontic screening for your child.

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