Naturally, parents want what is best for their children. They bring them for annual visits with their pediatrician to monitor their development, they help them with their homework, and they even bring them to the dentist to help treat or prevent tooth decay from happening. However, there are some things that parents might not address until complications or symptoms begin developing that are noticeable not to the child, but to the parent. For instance, your child might fail a vision screening during middle school, or let you know they can’t read a sign that you know they should be able to see. At that point, parents take their children to an eye doctor to perform an exam and determine whether or not glasses may be in store.
Another example is an orthodontic evaluation. Most parents don’t address orthodontic screenings until their children are around the age of puberty or in high school. At that age, children have lost all of their baby teeth, are experiencing rapid growth when it comes to facial features like the jaw and tooth misalignment is more noticeable. Not only that, but the position of the teeth becomes a significant self-image issue for children who are becoming more independent and social.
When is the best time for you to take your child for an evaluation of their bite? Should you wait until it looks serious, you child becomes self-conscious about it, or until your dentist says something? Believe it or not, it’s recommended that children receive their first orthodontic evaluation no later than 7 years of age. It might seem drastically early, but it is very beneficial to your child’s smile (as well as your pocketbook!)
At age 7, your child is beginning to have several permanent teeth erupting (or already erupted) into place. This stage of development is referred to as a “mixed dentition” because they have both primary and permanent teeth in place. During this time, earlier conditions can be assessed that would otherwise lead to orthodontic complications later on. For instance, if there is excessive crowding and a tooth is having problems erupting, it can be addressed earlier on rather than waiting until the tooth has reached almost complete development but is still buried deep within the bone. It can be much easier to address it during early bone and tooth development, when your child is still growing.
Interceptive orthodontics is a very effective way to help correct problems like these from causing significant complications later on. An example might be a primary molar that is lost a year or two before it should have fallen out, due to a large cavity, infection, or accident. Although this tooth would have eventually fallen out anyhow, it was acting as a spacer between the other teeth. Those adjacent teeth now tilt or lean into the open space, and block the permanent tooth from erupting. To prevent this from happening, your orthodontic or dental provider could place a space maintainer in the area to keep it open until the adult tooth begins to erupt. These small, temporary bands can prevent the need for orthodontic treatment later on and are a preventive step for a common smile complication. Expanders are another example. Your child might have a narrow arch that is creating an inappropriate bite relationship between the upper and lower teeth. It can create problems of its own, but if addressed earlier on it can be avoided. Installing a temporary expander behind the child’s teeth can encourage wider development of the palate or jaw, naturally correcting the growth and fit between the upper and lower jaws.
Treatments like these are considered to be “growth modification” steps. Rather than physically moving the teeth, it helps the teeth come into the mouth correctly. As a result, a more natural relationship is established at a far earlier age. Then, when children in elementary school become older, they don’t require as much orthodontic correction of their teeth. If they do need braces, the treatments are shorter and more straightforward when it comes to correcting them. More complex problems like severe tooth misalignments, cross-bites, overbites, underbites, extractions of permanent teeth, airway issues, and jaw surgeries may be able to be avoided completely.
If your child is approaching their 7th birthday, or happens to be already older than that, it’s time to schedule their first orthodontic screening appointment with a certified orthodontist specialist’s office. Think of it just like an eye exam, well visit, or dental check-up with your pediatric dentist or family dentist. Addressing it at a young age will make your time investment more worthwhile, and help create a more positive orthodontic experience for your family. That way it won’t be such a scary thing when you’re finally taking your teenager to an orthodontist. You can get all of the unknowns out of the way earlier on, and benefit from a better, shorter, more affordable treatment plan!