Early Prevention

Early Orthodontic Treatment for Children

What is the difference between early orthodontic treatment and regular orthodontic treatment, and why might my child need early treatment? How will early treatment benefit my child in the long run?

These are just a few of the questions surrounding the topic of early orthodontic treatment for children. Early prevention is key! The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that every child should have his or her first visit to the orthodontist by the age of seven. At this point the orthodontist will evaluate whether your child will need orthodontic treatment. Most kids will not need any early treatment at that age and we will simply observe their growth and development until they are ready for braces, which is usually after age 11.

A much smaller percentage of kids whom have moderate to severe jaw misalignment would greatly benefit from early orthodontic intervention. Early treatment (also known as phase one) typically begins around age eight or nine. Phase two will begin around age 11 or older, and involves full braces. The goal of early treatment is to maximize the child’s growth potential to correct the growth of the jaws and certain bite problems, such as underbite or severe overjet. If we catch these jaw misalignments early and can use the child’s growth to our advantage, we can usually eliminate more invasive procedures in the future, like extraction of permanent teeth or surgery to re-align the jaws.

Parents often ask why do we do early treatment (or Phase One) when we know there is going to be treatment needed at an older age. The answer is that phase one involves the manipulation of bone growth in the jaws that cannot be done at an older age.

How to tell if your child may need early orthodontic treatment:

  • Early or late loss of baby teeth (your child should typically start losing teeth around age five, and will have all permanent teeth around age 13)
  • Difficulty chewing and/or biting
  • Mouth breathing
  • Your child continues sucking his or her thumb after age five
  • Speech impediments
  • Underbites or Severe Overjet
  • Severe Jaw Constriction
  • Protruding teeth (the top teeth and the bottom teeth extend away from each other)
  • Teeth that don't come together in a normal manner or even at all
  • Shifting of the jaw when your child opens or closes his or her mouth (crossbites)
  • Crowded front teeth around age seven or eight

What causes orthodontic problems, and how will early treatment benefit my child?

Orthodontic problems, such as crowding of the teeth, too much space between the teeth, jaw growth problems, protruding teeth, and bad bites can be inherited or caused by injury to the mouth, early or late loss of baby teeth, or thumb-sucking habits.

Most children lose all their baby teeth by age 13, and by the end of their teen years, the jaw bones will harden and stop growing. Orthodontic procedures for adults often take more time and can involve tooth extraction or oral surgery. Receiving early orthodontic treatment as a child can help prevent the need for orthodontics as an adult, leaving little to no chance of extraction or surgery in the future.

If your child is between the ages of seven and eight and shows signs of needing orthodontic care, or if you have been directed by your family dentist to visit the orthodontist, please contact our practice and schedule an appointment. Our team will provide your child with an initial exam, and discuss with you the best steps to take toward caring for your child's smile.