When is the best time for my child to start orthodontic treatment?
There is no one correct answer for this question! Dr. Henry still prefers to do one comprehensive phase of treatment that typically starts around age 12 or 13. However, every child is truly unique and various aspects of skeletal growth, dental development, genetics, breathing and swallowing patterns, size/shape of teeth, muscle function, and habits require each child to be evaluated on an individual basis. There are a handful of red flags (such as severe crowding, irregular bite, ...) that can be detected and treated early on to ultimately give the individual a better long-term result. Because of the importance a healthy and stable "bite" plays in our physical development along with all of the psychological/social benefits that come with having a pleasing smile, we strongly encouage every parent to get their child in for a comprehensive orthodontic evaluation with Dr. Henry by age 7.
Early Orthodontic Treatment for Children
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children see an orthodontist as early as age seven. At this point the orthodontist will evaluate whether your child will need orthodontic treatment.
Early treatment (also known as Phase One) typically begins around age eight or nine (Phase Two will begin around age 12 or older). The goal of early treatment is to correct the growth of the jaw and certain bite problems, such as underbite. Early treatment also helps to make room for permanent teeth to come in properly, lessening the chance of extractions in the future.
How to tell if your child may need early orthodontic treatment:
- Early or late loss of baby teeth (your child should typically start losing teeth around age five, and will have all permanent teeth around age 13)
- Difficulty chewing and/or biting
- Mouth breathing
- Your child continues sucking his or her thumb after age five
- Speech impediments
- Protruding front teeth (the top teeth and the bottom teeth extend away from each other)
- Upper front teeth close behind the lower front teeth (underbite)
- Teeth that don't come together in a normal manner or even at all
- Shifting of the jaw when your child opens or closes his or her mouth (crossbites)
- Crowded front teeth around age seven or eight
What causes orthodontic problems, and how will early treatment benefit my child?
Orthodontic problems such as crowding of the teeth, too much space between the teeth, jaw growth problems, protrusive front teeth, and bad bites can be inherited or caused by injury to the mouth, early or late loss of baby teeth, or thumb-sucking habits.
Most children lose all their baby teeth by age 12, and by the end of their teen years, the jaw bones will harden and stop growing. Orthodontic procedures for adults often take more time and can involve tooth extraction or oral surgery. Receiving early orthodontic treatment as a child can help prevent the need for orthodontics as an adult, reducing the chance of extraction or surgery in the future.
If your child is between the ages of seven and eight and shows signs of needing orthodontic care, or if you have been directed by your family dentist to visit the orthodontist, please contact our practice and schedule an appointment. Our team will provide your child with an initial exam, and discuss with you the best steps to take toward caring for your child's smile.