When Can My Child Begin Orthodontic Treatment?
Orthodontic treatment is a critical part of children’s overall dental care, geared towards improving both their dental health and self-esteem. It involves the diagnosis, prevention, and correction of malpositioned teeth and jaws, also known as malocclusion.
Deciding on the Right Time for Orthodontic Treatment
The decision to begin orthodontic treatment is influenced by various factors contributing to the individual’s oral health and development. Here are some critical considerations for determining the right time for orthodontic treatment:
- Dental Development: Monitoring the growth and development of the teeth and jaws is essential in identifying any signs of misalignment or bite issues. Early evaluation allows orthodontists to assess the progression of dental development and determine whether early intervention is necessary to address potential orthodontic concerns.
- Early Intervention for Preventive Measures: Early orthodontic evaluations enable orthodontists to identify and address potential issues before they develop into more complex problems. Early intervention can help guide the proper jaw growth, create adequate space for permanent teeth, and minimize the need for more extensive orthodontic treatment later on.
- Assessment of Bite and Jaw Alignment: Evaluating the bite and jaw alignment early on can help identify any discrepancies affecting oral function, speech, or overall oral health. Addressing these issues at the appropriate developmental stage can lead to more effective and successful orthodontic treatment outcomes.
- Optimal Timing for Treatment: The timing of orthodontic treatment may vary depending on the specific needs of each individual. Some orthodontic issues may be best addressed during adolescence when the permanent teeth have erupted, while others may require early intervention during childhood to guide proper dental development.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children have their first orthodontic evaluation no later than age 7.
Why Age Seven?
Children’s permanent teeth have started to come in at this age, and any issues can be spotted and evaluated. These include problems such as overcrowding, gaps, and improper jaw growth. Early detection allows effective preventative measures or interventions, reducing the chance of more significant problems later in life.
Early and Late Phases of Orthodontic Treatment
Orthodontic treatment can be administered in two phases – early and late. The early phase, or interceptive treatment, aims to guide jaw growth and incoming permanent teeth. The late phase, often during adolescence, typically involves braces or aligners to reposition any remaining misaligned teeth.
- Improvement of Facial Symmetry and Jaw Growth: The early phase of orthodontic treatment aims to influence the growth of the jaw to improve facial symmetry and address any discrepancies in jaw development, which can contribute to better overall facial harmony and oral function.
- Prevention of Trauma to Protruding Front Teeth: Early intervention can help prevent the risk of trauma or injury to protruding front teeth, especially in cases where the teeth are positioned in a way that makes them more susceptible to damage during accidents or falls.
- Prevention of Tooth Removals: By guiding the growth of the jaw and creating sufficient space for incoming permanent teeth, early orthodontic treatment can help prevent tooth extractions later on, thereby maintaining a full and healthy dentition.
- Correction of Alignment with Braces or Aligners: The late phase of orthodontic treatment typically involves using braces or aligners to address any remaining misalignments or bite issues, ensuring that the teeth are properly aligned and positioned for optimal oral function and aesthetics.
- Timing and Duration: This phase often occurs during adolescence, once all the primary teeth have been replaced by permanent ones. The duration of treatment can vary depending on the severity of the orthodontic issues. It may last anywhere from 1 to 3 years, during which the teeth gradually shift into their desired positions.
Recognizing the Need for Orthodontic Treatment
While age plays a vital role, children do not always display orthodontic issues first. Often, it’s their watchful parents who identify worrisome signs. If you notice the following in your child, consider seeking an orthodontic evaluation:
- Early, Late, or Irregular Loss of Baby Teeth: Deviations from the typical pattern of baby tooth loss could indicate potential orthodontic concerns, such as irregular tooth development or issues with the underlying dental structure.
- Difficulty in Chewing or Biting: Challenges with chewing or biting can indicate misaligned teeth, malocclusion, or other bite-related issues that may benefit from orthodontic assessment and treatment.
- Thumb or Finger-Sucking Habits: Prolonged thumb or finger-sucking habits can lead to dental misalignment and improper jaw development, potentially requiring orthodontic intervention to address resulting issues.
- Crowded, Misplaced, or Blocked-out Teeth: Abnormal tooth positioning, such as crowding or misplacement, can affect the overall alignment and function of the teeth. Orthodontic treatment can help address these issues and improve dental alignment.
- Jaws that Shift or Make Unusual Sounds: Abnormal jaw movements or unusual sounds during jaw motion may indicate underlying orthodontic problems, such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues or malocclusion, which an orthodontic specialist should evaluate.
- Mouth Breathing Instead of Nasal Breathing: Persistent mouth breathing, particularly in the absence of nasal congestion, could signal potential orthodontic concerns, including airway issues or improper jaw development that may require orthodontic evaluation and treatment.
Braces vs. Invisalign
The goal of treating teeth misalignment remains the same, but how it’s achieved can differ. Braces, made from metal or ceramics, are fixed onto your teeth and gradually aligned over time. On the other hand, Invisalign has clear, removable aligners custom-built for your teeth. Discussing the braces or Invisalign: your choice will be part of your consultation with the orthodontist.
Other Dental Services
A seemingly perfect set of teeth can greatly enhance your smile with dental veneers. Porcelain veneers are thin, tooth-colored shells customized to cover the front surface of the teeth, improving the teeth’s appearance. Besides being a cosmetic solution, veneers are also used to fix minor orthodontic issues like slightly crooked teeth.
Traditionally, orthodontic treatment was focused on health benefits, but cosmetic dentistry has provided a new perspective. Besides corrective measures, cosmetic dentistry allows for aesthetic enhancements, such as teeth whitening and straightening. To learn more about these options, consult with a qualified dental professional.
While there’s no hard and firm age limit to begin orthodontic treatment, early evaluations at around age seven can make a difference in your child’s dental health and self-esteem. The possibilities in orthodontic treatment are vast, from early treatments to more advanced solutions like braces or Invisalign. It’s important to remember that every child’s teeth develop uniquely, and consultations with a trusted orthodontist are crucial in determining the best treatment plan for your child’s needs and smile aspirations.