When you hear the term “orthodontics,” do you automatically conjure up an image of a gawky teen in a full set of metal braces? Since that particular stereotype has proven itself to have plenty of staying power, many people do. That’s why it can be so surprising to learn that orthodontic care is beneficial to patients of all ages, including younger children. As a matter of fact, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends all kids have their first orthodontic evaluation by around the age of 7!
Most children this age have mouths that are still developing and a number of baby teeth left, so you may wonder why we would want to see them so soon. Early orthodontic evaluations are a part of the preventative approach we take to orthodontic care here at Mack Orthodontics.
When you bring your young child in for an examination with Dr. Mack or Dr. Kedavy, he’ll have the opportunity to catch any existing or potential orthodontic issues sooner rather than later. Because this reduces the risk of those problems becoming a much bigger deal later on in life, this approach can help prevent those same problems from having a negative impact on their future permanent teeth and bite.
Our practice treats quite a few younger patients, so we’ve been able to observe firsthand how starting treatment at the most opportune time can make a positive difference to a child’s overall oral health. If your child is ready for their first orthodontic appointment, we’d love to schedule a consultation for you both so we can take a look at how their mouth is developing! Keep reading below to learn more about some of the things our team will be checking for during this initial evaluation.
Tooth loss and eruption
Because our baby teeth eventually fall out, it’s easy to think they don’t really matter. However, these primary teeth are actually placeholders for the permanent teeth, so where they’re located and when they are lost matters more than you might think. They also tend to fall out in a fairly specific order, so any significant deviation from that pattern could signify a developmental issue that may need further attention.
At this stage in their development, most children will have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors. If our team observes any more or less than this, it could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, or extra teeth. For some cases like this, we may choose to remove a primary tooth early. In others, we may choose to simply maintain a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely in order to keep the neighboring teeth from crowding it.
Crowding and spacing
Spacing issues can show up when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or with teeth that are too small or spaced apart. If crowding is the problem, it can often be corrected by expanding the arches or removing certain teeth. We can generally tell pretty early on in a child’s life if they’re experiencing problems with excessive crowding or spacing of their teeth, or if these problems seem likely to develop later on.
Crooked teeth are not only harder to keep clean, they can also be more susceptible to uneven wear and tear. If misalignment is allowed to continue untreated for a long enough period of time, it can compromise the surrounding gum tissue, affecting the shape and position of it. Even though we’re able to align the teeth at almost any age, getting a head start on this can help prevent some of that damage in children and give them the best start for a healthy smile!
Overbite (protrusive front teeth)
Front teeth that obviously protrude can be a cosmetic concern, but may also cause pain in the jaw, and even contribute to certain difficulties with normal speech. Even though we aren’t always able to permanently correct an overbite until your child’s mouth has finished growing, there are still a number of things we can do in the meantime to help reduce the risk of pain and traumatic injury, while increasing a child’s self-confidence.
Underbites are generally caused by problems with the teeth or jaws. The most difficult scenario involves the lower jaw growing too far forward. In a case like that, we will typically need to wait until the patient has finished growing to begin their treatment, which will tend to be in their mid- to late-teens. Early treatment is still important, however! It will help patients avoid any bite-shifting or damage to the front teeth. Not only that, but underbite patients who receive early treatment between the ages of about 7-10 are also less likely to need jaw surgery when they get older.
A posterior crossbite can lead to crowding, and may also cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other. Expanding the upper jaw in earlier childhood may allow us to reduce crowding and create space for the front teeth to come through uninterrupted. Expansion can also eliminate any shifting that may be present due to a constricted upper jaw.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
With a bite that is considered to be too deep, the top teeth can completely cover the bottom ones when biting. This may indicate a small lower jaw. In an open bite, the overall bite doesn’t overlap enough. This is often caused by poor oral habits, including extended finger or thumb sucking. If this is a problem with your child, we will be happy to work with you both to eliminate any destructive habits early on, so that their development is able to continue normally.
Early evaluations = improved oral health at Mack Orthodontics
When you get a look at all the potential issues our younger patients can face, it’s not hard to see why early orthodontic evaluations are an important part of your child’s overall oral health! The key factor is the timing, since a child’s jaw bones continue to harden as they get older, and will eventually stop growing. If orthodontic procedures are needed after that point, they will often take more time and can be more invasive, like tooth extractions or oral surgery.
Having your young child examined by experienced orthodontists like Dr. Mack and Dr. Kedavy can often help prevent the need for orthodontics as an adult, and may even make comprehensive orthodontic treatment faster and more efficient. If you’re ready to schedule your child’s first orthodontic appointment, get in touch with us today. We’ll be happy to get you started with a consultation!