The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children have their first orthodontic evaluation around 7 years old or after their permanent front teeth have come in. It’s important to note that this age is merely a guideline. Some children get their adult teeth early; some are late bloomers. While that may seem young for orthodontic treatment, this exam can give your child’s dentist and orthodontist key insights into whether orthodontic treatment will be necessary, or if any issues that may be present now will resolve themselves as your child grows. Active orthodontic treatment doesn’t usually begin until a couple of years later but addressing issues while your child is young can reduce treatment time, increase compliance, and reduce complications since a parent can still oversee home care routines.
If your child’s dentist does recommend an orthodontic consult, what are they looking for, exactly?
Stop Bad Habits from Causing Permanent Damage
If your child still sucks his or her thumb or shows signs of a tongue thrust, intervention is necessary before the adult teeth grow in. If behavior modification techniques don’t work, wearing an oral device may help retrain your child.
Your Child’s Bite
How your child’s teeth come together is almost as important as whether or not they are coming in straight. Dentists look for signs of an overbite or an underbite, or if the upper palate (roof of the mouth) is too narrow or too wide. If a child’s palate is too narrow, this is the prime age to consider a palatal expander. Between the ages of 7-10 years, our bones and ligaments are still very pliable, and a simple oral device at this point can reduce the need for orthognathic surgery once the growing years are over.
Crowded or Crooked Teeth
Adult teeth start coming in when we are six years old. By age seven, the top front adult teeth and first molars should be present while all other baby teeth should be in place. If not, then an orthodontic consult may be necessary to find out why. Sometimes teeth are congenitally missing, meaning they never formed or maybe your child’s bite is too crowded for them to erupt. If the baby teeth have already fallen out the adult teeth will start to come in at places and times that they are not supposed to. This could cause crowding or damage to neighboring teeth. In any case, proactive treatment can prevent more severe issues down the road.
Straight teeth may be the most visible result of orthodontic treatment, but behind the scenes, if your child’s teeth don’t come together correctly, it can cause speech impediments, eating problems, and joint pain that worsens with age. You wouldn’t put a new roof on a house that has a bad foundation. It pays to make sure the bite, jaw, and supporting muscles are healthy before you make sure your child’s front teeth are cosmetically beautiful. And just because your child’s front teeth are straight doesn’t mean there aren’t any underlying bite problems that can be more easily resolved while they are still growing.
A consult with your child’s dentist or orthodontist before their adult teeth come in can reduce overall treatment time and save your child a lot of discomfort and time in the dental chair by resolving issues while they are still growing.