While it’s true that orthodontic treatment is effective at virtually any age, starting treatment early makes the most sense for many children. The American Association of Orthodontists advise that kids should have an initial orthodontic screening at age 7. Early evaluation isn’t necessarily followed by early treatment; in most cases, if orthodontic work is not 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. In some cases, however, treatment is recommended and getting an early start can speed progress, save money and even prevent the onset of problems that can seem unrelated to orthodontics. Recent studies have shown a connection to sleep problems and even ADHD with misaligned teeth and jaw function.
As a child grows, the first adult molars have typically started to emerge by around age six. This, along with other developmental markers, lets us determine the basic alignment of the teeth, from front to back and side to side. Often, it’s 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 Earlier Treatment Is Better
For many of our patients, we recommend treatment around ages 11-14, when all of the baby teeth are gone and many of the permanent teeth are in place. Sometimes there are conditions that are easier to treat when detected early as mentioned above during the initial evaluation at around 7 years of age. Your child’s natural growth processes are moving at full speed and the orthodontist is able to get results easier in these cases. Below are some examples where earlier treatment can really help the corrective process:
- Severe Crossbite: A condition where the upper teeth close inside the lower teeth. Your orthodontist will use a palatal expander to gradually and painlessly widen the upper jaw. Waiting too long complicates the treatment, many times causing the jaw to grow asymmetrical, even possibly creating a need for oral surgery – where one of the jaws is broken and moved into the correct position.
- Severe Crowding: Crowding occurs when the jaws are too small to accommodate all of the adult teeth. Palatal expansion may be utilized to create space for the permanent teeth to emerge from below the gums properly. Even if braces are needed later, the treatment time will be less complicated and likely shorter.
- Other problems, such as protruding teeth, which can lead to chipping and fractures can work against a child’s self-image. Even serious bite problems caused by the lower jaw growing much larger than the upper jaw are more easily corrected when treated early. This is especially important because the orthodontist can utilize appliances like braces and other appliances, that work well, instead of risky and often more painful surgery.
Correcting Bad Habits
When you bring your child in for an early orthodontic screening we can help you recognize and correct any habits your child has that could be detrimental to the alignment of their teeth and jaw. Again, the earlier the better around age 7, as any needed treatment is easier, faster and potentially less expensive if done early. Some of the habits and their effects are:
- Late Thumb Sucking: The sucking reflex is natural in early childhood; it usually disappears between ages 2 and 4. But if it persists much later, the pressure of the digit on the front teeth and the upper jaw can actually cause the teeth to move apart and the jaws to change shape. This can lead to the orthodontic problem called “open bite,” and may impair speech.
- Tongue Thrusting: An open bite can also be caused by the force of the tongue pushing forward against the teeth.
- 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.
If your child is experiencing any of these behaviors, we are able to offer various orthodontic solutions that will prevent future problems that can be caused by them. An early orthodontic screening is key to assuring your child has the best possible outcome for their bite health.