As parents, we can understand how confusing it can be when parents hear that the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends children have an orthodontic consultation by age 7. You may be thinking, “Why so early? My daughter/son still has baby teeth!” While this is true, age 7 is the time when front and back permanent teeth are erupting, giving your orthodontist insight into your child’s bite and jaw growth (in addition tooth development and eruption).
Fortunately, the majority of children will NOT need early treatment. The purpose of an orthodontic check-up by age 7 is to catch and address significant issues before they have the opportunity to develop into serious problems. Typically, no treatment is needed, and your orthodontist will simply monitor your child's development.
For children that do need early orthodontic treatment, this is commonly referred to as “Phase 1” or “Interceptive” treatment, and typically involves some temporary braces or aligners. It may also involve an orthodontic appliance, such as a maxillary/palatal expander or orthodontic appliance to address a bite or jaw.
Early treatment can make space for incoming adult teeth, address a misaligned bite, close big spaces, and help prevent damage to the teeth and gums. It is also an opportunity for your orthodontist to encourage proper growth of the jaws in instances of an imbalance or constricted airway.
7 Reasons to See an Orthodontist by Age 7:
1. IDENTIFY POTENTIAL PROBLEMS EARLY. By age 7, the permanent teeth are starting to emerge to establish a child’s bite. This provides an orthodontist with insights into potential problems, such as crossbite, overbite, overjet, open bite, underbite, crowded teeth or a gummy smile. It also gives you and your doctor the opportunity to potentially address your child’s potential dental problems before they occur. Overjet and overbite are more than just a cosmetic concerns. In addition to affecting speech, severe overjet places the front teeth at a high risk for trauma, fracture, and damage. In cases of severe overbite, teeth may impinge (compress) on gum tissue, leading to gum recession and significant discomfort. Although your orthodontist may recommend waiting until a child’s mouth is more developed to permanently fix excess overjet or overbite, there are ways to reduce the risk of trauma and boost confidence!
2. OFFER SOLUTIONS FOR HARMFUL ORAL HABITS. Damaging oral habits, such as thumb/finger sucking and tongue thrusting, can result in abnormal growth of the jaws, protrusion of teeth, open bite, and malocclusion (misaligned bite). Your orthodontist can review some home remedies that you may find works for your child. If needed, a habit breaking appliance can be designed. These devices are bonded onto teeth and work to physically prevent and stop a habit. If habits are addressed early, dental side effects sometimes self-correct. Working together to eliminate oral habits early will promote healthy dental development for your child.
3. GUIDE JAW GROWTH. In cases where jaw growth is imbalanced or mismatched, the goal of early treatment is to halt or reverse this developing problem while the child is still growing. This can prevent the need for tooth extraction and corrective jaw surgery later in life. One example of a jaw imbalance is an underbite, in which the lower jaw may be growing too far forward or upper jaw is not growing enough. Another example of a jaw imbalance is a deficient lower jaw, which often presents with severe overjet and retruded chin. As children get older, the growth of their jaw bones begins to slow, eventually stopping all together. Intervention with a dentofacial orthopedic appliance or bite corrector while a child’s jaws are still growing gives your orthodontist the opportunity to encourage additional growth.
4. EVALUATE AIRWAY. If your child is experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, mouth breathing, snoring or morning headaches, they may be suffering from sleep disordered breathing. Obstruction of a child’s airway will alter the way their jaws grow and airway forms. Not only can it lead to poor sleep quality, it can also affect a child’s concentration, behavior, growth, and overall health, as their brain has to work harder to take in oxygen. In some cases, orthodontists can use expanders and other appliances to change the size and shape of the airway in growing patients. These appliances can expand the palate (upper jaw) and nasal passages, open the airways, or position the lower jaw forward to allow better airflow. In other cases, a referral to an ear nose and throat (ENT) physician, myofunctional therapist, or another specialist may be recommended.
5. MONITOR GROWING TEETH. Two-thirds of what goes on in your mouth is actually hidden below the surface! An orthodontist can check developing teeth and evaluate for dental abnormalities, such as missing teeth, extra teeth (supernumerary teeth), cysts, or teeth developing in the wrong direction. Children that are congenitally missing (born without) teeth have a greater risk for space loss and crowding. Usually there are more treatment options for these patients if they see an orthodontist as a child. Infrequently, teeth can become trapped or develop in the wrong direction. These teeth are referred to as impacted, and can cause crowding and damage to surrounding teeth. If caught and addressed early, they often self-correct. If not addressed in time, impacted teeth may require extensive treatment and potential surgery.
6. EVALUATE SPACE FOR PERMANENT TEETH. Crowded teeth can be due to jaws that aren’t large enough to accommodate them, teeth that are too big in size, or early loss of primary teeth. When a primary tooth is lost too early, neighboring teeth often drift to take up the space. This can block a permanent tooth from coming in properly and lead to significant crowding. Depending on the severity of the space loss or expected crowding, your orthodontist can use a space maintainer to hold space, or an appliance to regain space that was lost. When the permanent teeth are ready to come in naturally, they’ll have adequate room and your child’s treatment will be much more straightforward.
7. BOOST SELF-CONFIDENCE. Crooked teeth or a bad bite can cause embarrassment, anxiety, and discomfort for a child during their formative years. It doesn’t help that bullying is so prevalent in person and online. While early treatment is most often used when there are functional or development issues, the cosmetic benefits are important too. When a child likes their smile, they get a huge boost of confidence that carries over into their school, activities and relationships.
If you live in Zionsville, IN or a surrounding community and have a child who is ready for their first orthodontic check-up, Godley Family Orthodontics offers free complimentary consultations with Dr. Godley. To schedule an appointment or learn more, visit godleyfamilyortho.com or contact our office at (317) 913-2828. We can't wait to meet you!