You’ve watched your child’s oral development go from a cute, gummy smile, to first baby teeth, to their first adult tooth. And now that they’re on the road to slowly replacing baby teeth with adult teeth, you might be wondering when a visit to the orthodontist should happen.
It’s fair to say that most people think the pre-teen or teen years as the typical time for their child’s first orthodontic visit. Just think of the generations of braces-wearing teens roaming the halls and malls… maybe you were even one of them!
But today, an earlier visit is recommended by dental professionals, including us at Davis Orthodontics! An early visit to the orthodontist can give your child a head start when it comes to healthy oral development. Benefits of a straight smile include chewing and talking efficiently, creating a positive first impression, and boosting self-esteem and confidence.
So At What Age Should You See An Orthodontist?
The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that a first orthodontic visit happens at age seven. Why? Because by that time, your child has a few adult teeth already, and their jaw shape is pretty much set. So it’s a great time for an orthodontist to examine your child’s teeth and spot potential bite, jaw or alignment issues.
Now, not to worry… your second-grader won’t walk out of their first appointment with braces on! Typically, a first orthodontic visit at Davis Orthodontics is just to see how your child’s teeth are developing. If we don’t see major issues that need early orthodontics, we’ll continue to keep tabs on your child’s oral development at regular appointments. If orthodontic treatment is needed down the road, we’ll suggest treatment when it’s time.
What Kinds of Issues Might Mean My Child Needs Early Orthodontics?
As a kids orthodontist serving upstate SC, we want the best for your little one’s smile. Now, you might be asking, “Is early orthodontic treatment necessary?” Well, early interceptive orthodontics, as it’s called, fixes orthodontic issues like a bad bite, or misaligned teeth and jaws in kids, making later treatment easier and, typically shorter.
Orthodontic issues that might need early orthodontic treatment include:
- Protruding Front Teeth: In kids, top front teeth that stick out are sometimes a result of infant habits that went on too long, extending into the early elementary years.
Did your kiddo suck their thumb past toddlerhood? Maybe they continued to tongue thrust well past the pureed food stage? (Refresher: tongue thrust pushes the tongue against the back of the front teeth. This reflex is natural and necessary for babies — preventing them from choking and helping them process solid foods.)
Prolonged baby habits can affect your kid’s front teeth and jaw alignment, causing difficulties chewing or speaking. And your child’s chances of injuring or losing those top front teeth go up when they stick out.
- Underbites and Overbites: Early orthodontics benefits jaw misalignment in kids like underbite and overbites. An underbite is when the lower jaw sticks out farther than the upper jaw. The more common overbite is when the upper jaw sticks out past the lower jaw. In either case, the teeth don’t align in a well-functioning bite. This can cause problems with chewing and speaking, and some kids feel self-conscious about their misaligned jaws.
- Anterior or Posterior Crossbites: A crossbite is when the jaw shifts to one side. It can result in asymmetrical jaw growth, excessive wear on teeth, or gum recession. These issues can make chewing more difficult, tooth decay and cavities more likely, or cause jaw pain.
- Crowding or Big Gaps Between Teeth. Do your kiddo’s teeth look crammed together? Teeth that are tight together or almost overlap is called crowding, and can make good oral hygiene challenging. It’s hard to floss in between tight teeth and brush well.
Or maybe your kiddo has big gaps between their teeth? Early or late loss of baby teeth can cause issues with spacing. For example, sometimes a baby tooth will fall out but the adult tooth that’s supposed to replace it doesn’t come in or is missing, resulting in a gap.
Types of Early Interceptive Orthodontics
A big reason for early interceptive orthodontics is prevention. The goal is to catch complex issues before they have a chance to worsen and impact your kiddo’s oral health or day-to-day life. At Davis Orthodontics, all our doctors at Davis Orthodontics are certified specialists in dentofacial orthopedics.
“What is dentofacial orthopedics?” you ask. Well, let us tell you! Dentofacial orthopedics is managing tooth movements and guiding facial growth and development together. This means we consider the harmony of your kiddo’s teeth, facial structure and development all together.
Kids orthodontics happens in two phases. Phase one involves guiding your kid’s jaw and facial growth with an orthodontic appliance while your child is still growing. You could say it does a lot of the heavy lifting!
In Phase 1, your David Orthodontics doctor will assess your young one’s issues, then recommend Phase 1 orthodontic appliances like braces for kids, orthodontic expanders, or space maintainers. In some cases, we might suggest removing certain baby teeth to make room for the adult teeth waiting to come in.
Phase 1 treatment helps make Phase 2 treatment easier — when all the adult teeth have erupted and it’s time for braces or clear aligners like Invisalign®.
Let’s talk about the most common treatments in Phase 1 orthodontics:
Phase 1 Braces
When it comes to early braces for kids, Phase 1 braces are typically applied to only select teeth; they’re not the full braces that we see on teens and adults. And these early braces have a short treatment time: only 9-12 months!
If your child’s upper jaw is too narrow for their adult teeth, it might not be early braces that your kiddo needs but a palatal expander. A palatal expander gently opens up your child’s upper jaw to make room for their adult teeth and can eliminate the need for tooth extractions or jaw surgery later on.
Now, we understand that a palatal expander might sound a little intimidating, but it really is the least invasive way to open up the upper jaw. The upper jaw is made up of two halves that are still separate when you’re a kid — an expander has two halves that mimic those halves. You use a tiny key to turn a tiny screw that pushes the two halves of the expander incrementally apart, pushing the two halves of the jaw apart little by little.
These are pretty much just like they sound. They keep space open between existing teeth for adult teeth to come in. Your Davis Orthodontist might use a space maintainer to prevent surrounding teeth from doing what they’d want to do naturally — move to fill a space!
A retainer follows Phase 1 treatment. After all, we want to give newly-straightened teeth time to settle into their new spots! Kids typically wear this retainer for 6-12 months.
What are the Benefits of Early Orthodontic Treatment?
So we’ve covered the issues that child orthodontics can fix and the types of early orthodontic treatments available — like Phase 1 braces and expanders. Are you wondering about the benefits of Phase 1 orthodontics? They include:
- Improvement in chewing, speaking and/or breathing
- Room for adult teeth to come in
- A lower risk of damage to front top teeth
- Stopping prolonged baby habits like thumb sucking and tongue thrust
- Improving facial symmetry
- Helping self-esteem and confidence
- Better oral health because of a lower chance of developing cavities, tooth decay, and periodontal disease
- Reducing the need for tooth removal
- Ensuring orthodontic treatment in the teen years is easier, shorter and more affordable
- Lessening or avoiding orthodontic correction or surgery
Your Kids Orthodontist for Early Orthodontics in the Upstate
Now that you know the importance of an early orthodontic visit and early orthodontics, get a jump on your little one’s oral development. Dr. Buddy and the team at Davis Orthodontics want to help your kiddo with the healthy, confident smile they deserve!
Make an appointment for an early orthodontic visit at one of our eight Upstate, SC orthodontics offices today.