You probably know that it is never too late to begin orthodontic treatment, but when it comes to your child’s teeth, did you know that earlier may be better than later? According to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), kids should have an initial orthodontic screening at age seven. What makes early evaluation and early treatment so important?
There are several ways that children can benefit from an orthodontic evaluation at an early age. It is important to recognize that early evaluation is not necessarily followed by early treatment. In most cases, if orthodontic work is needed, your child’s growth patterns are simply monitored until it is time for treatment to begin. This creates an opportunity to get the best results in the most efficient way and to help prevent future problems.
Although every child’s development is different, in most kids, the first adult molars have typically started to emerge by around age six. At this point it is possible to evaluate the basic alignment of the teeth from front to back and side to side. It may also be possible at this point to determine whether there is adequate room in the mouth for all the permanent teeth and, if not, to take action.
How Do I Know If My Child Needs Early Treatment?
Treatment for common orthodontic problems typically begins between age 9-14, when all the baby teeth are gone and many of the permanent ones are in place. However, there are some conditions that are much easier to treat if they are caught at an early age when a child’s natural growth processes are going full speed ahead.
One condition your child may experience is severe crossbite, where the upper teeth close inside the lower teeth. To treat this problem, a device called a palatal expander can be used, which gradually and painlessly widens the upper jaw. It is especially effective when the jaw itself has not fully developed. If one waits too long, a more complicated treatment or even oral surgery might be required to correct the problem.
Another condition that may benefit from early treatment is severe crowding. This occurs when the jaws are too small to accommodate all the permanent teeth. Either palatal expansion or tooth extraction may be recommended at this point to help the adult teeth erupt (emerge from below the gums) properly. Even if braces are required later, the treatment time will likely be shorter and less complicated.
Early intervention may also be helpful in resolving several other problems. Protruding teeth, especially in front, can be prone to chipping and fractures. They may also lead to problems with a child’s self-image. A severe underbite, caused by the lower jaw growing much larger than the upper jaw, can result in serious bite problems. Orthodontic appliances, including braces and headgear, can be successfully used to correct these problems at this stage, thereby increasing the chances that surgery can be avoided.
Correcting Bad Habits
At one time or another, anyone may pick up a bad habit. But there are some situations where a youngster’s parafunctional (detrimental to health) habits can influence the development and function of his or her teeth, jaws and mouth. Some examples of these are persistent thumb sucking, tongue thrusting and mouth breathing.
The sucking reflex is natural in early childhood, and it usually disappears between ages 2 and 4. But if it persists much later, the pressure of the digit on the front teeth and the upper jaw can cause the teeth to move apart and the jaws to change shape. This can lead to the orthodontic problem called “open bite,” and may impair speech. An open bite can also be caused by the force of the tongue pushing forward against the teeth (tongue thrusting).
Mouth breathing is an abnormal breathing pattern in which the mouth always remains open, passing air directly to the lungs. It is related to alterations in the muscular function of the tongue and face. It may cause the upper and lower jaw to grow abnormally, which can lead to serious orthodontic problems. Although mouth breathing may start from a physical difficulty, it can become a habitual action that is hard to break.
Various orthodontic treatments are available to help correct these parafunctional habits, and the sooner they are taken care of, the less damage they may cause. But these potential problems are not always easy to recognize. That is one more reason why you should schedule an early orthodontic screening for your child.
Please call Lockett Orthodontics today at 719-309-6823 to schedule your child’s early orthodontic treatment in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with our orthodontist, Dr. Rhoda Lockett.