Braces can create beautiful smiles at any age. But did you know that starting at an early age has many advantages. Orthodontic treatment for children can be started as early as 7 years to detect and treat problems of a complex nature; which can shorten the total treatment time, reduce needless extractions and surgery. Every person, including a child, is different and there is no one size fits all rule. Sometimes waiting till permanent teeth have come in to the mouth can lead to more problems.
Let’s find out how children can benefit from early orthodontic treatment and what signs to look for early intervention.
What is the best age to start orthodontic treatment?
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, an initial orthodontic evaluation should be done at age 7. A children’s dentist also called Pediatric dentist is trained to look for signs and can refer to an Orthodontist for early treatment.
Why start early?
Normally orthodontic treatment in kids is started between ages 10-14 years when most of the permanent teeth have erupted. But there are instances when early treatment helps a great deal.
At around age 6-7 years most kids start to get their permanent molars. This helps your orthodontist to understand and predict the bite and space available for the remaining teeth. Sometimes your dentist will ask for a special X-ray that helps to evaluate all the child’s erupted and unerupted or incoming teeth, how the permanent teeth are developing and determine if early treatment is necessary. If there is not enough space in the jaws then the growth of the jaw can be guided early on to accommodate incoming teeth and avoid crowding.
This early treatment is called preventive orthodontic treatment also called Phase I and helps to avoid major problems later on like tooth loss, overcrowding etc. as 80% of our facial growth is over by the time we reach age 8 years. Thus as more complex treatment is avoided which turns out to it being pocket friendly as well.
Besides, working on problems early can give a boost to your child’s self-image and confidence. It improves your child’s appearance and leads to less teasing and bullying by peers with more healthy social interactions.
Also, Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) which is the joint of the jaw can be adversely affected due to delayed treatment. Early treatment can prevent these jaw joint disorders; lessen speech problems with better facial symmetry. And even if braces are needed later on, the treatment time will be much shorter.
Thus sooner the better when the jaw bone is more pliable, results are faster and more effective.
Here are the signs that can help you realize that your child will benefit from early orthodontic treatment:
1. Protruding/ flared upper teeth:
When the front teeth, especially the upper front teeth flare or jut out of the jaws, they are no longer protected by the lip. Now, they are in danger of getting chipped or fractured or even knocked out in an accident or especially if your child plays contact sports. Also, they are not looked upon very kindly and kids can become victims to teasing with loss of self-esteem. Orthodontic appliances can modulate jaw growth and accommodate and align them.
2. Severe crowding:
If the jaws are small in comparison with the permanent teeth, then the teeth get crowded. When this is noticed in a child, palatal expansion is done to create space. Since the palate is not yet done growing, it can be easily expanded. But on the other hand if this was to be done in a teenager or an adult, then extraction of teeth would be the only option.
3. Thumb sucking:
Children are born with the reflex to suck, it acts to sooth and calm them. The habit of thumb sucking usually stops between ages 2-4 years. But if continued beyond age 5 yrs. can cause permanent damage to teeth and the jaw bone and changes the face. It causes the upper jaw bone to narrow down, with an open bite in the front teeth, lips unable to touch each other and speech problems.
4. Mouth breathing:
An open mouth while breathing may seem very trivial and a thing not to be concerned about but it is a complex problem with many ramifications.
Mouth breathing happens when a child is not able to maintain a normal nasal breathing pattern and instead breathe through their mouth. It can lead to many orthodontic problems – like abnormal development of the upper and lower jaws, cross bites, improper swallowing, long face and even speech problems.
Orthodontic appliances can help such patients. Sometimes a multi-disciplinary team of doctors including an orthodontist is needed. But it is always better to start treatment at an early stage to avoid permanent unwanted changes.
5. Cross bite:
Correction of cross bite is comparatively easy with early intervention and significantly eliminates future problems. There are typically two types of cross bite; anterior – when the top front teeth sit behind the lower front teeth and posterior – when the upper back teeth bite inside the lower back teeth. It can be found on one side (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral) and can affect one or more teeth. They are usually genetic in origin due to a narrow maxilla (upper jaw) but can also be caused due to long term continuation of harmful habits like mouth breathing, long term use of pacifier and thumb or finger sucking.
If the treatment is not started early, cross bite can lead to many harmful repercussions like difficulty in chewing, speech, ear aches and risk of pain and problems with the Temporomandibular joint (jaw joint) and crowding of teeth due to lack of space for erupting permanent teeth.
6. Impacted teeth:
There is a notion that only wisdom teeth can be impacted, which is incorrect as even other permanent teeth can be impacted. An impacted tooth is unable to emerge fully into the mouth due to various reasons. Such teeth are mostly asymptomatic and detected only on X-rays. It can cause pressure against the surrounding teeth, leading to their loss or can come in an abnormal position. Early orthodontics can help by creating space for the tooth and preventing movement of teeth into that area. This stimulates the eruption of the tooth. If still the impacted tooth does not erupt then the gums and bone overlying it can be uncovered and it can be guided into position while protecting the adjacent teeth.
7. Feeling of having unattractive appearance due to crooked teeth:
The way we look plays an important role not just in the life of an adult but also for young children. Crooked misaligned teeth can lead to a low self-esteem and psychological problems in children. Peers can tease them leading to anxiety. Early orthodontic treatment can overcome these issues.
At Signature Smiles our Orthodontists have the expertise and experience to carry out early orthodontic treatment and will give you their true and genuine opinion as to when your child should start their braces treatment.