The answer to this question might surprise you. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends a visit to the orthodontic no later than age 7. That’s right, no later than 7. In my own practice, I also like parents to bring their children in around the age of 7, or when the top two permanent teeth and back molars grow in.
Does this seem young? It is, but there’s a good reason for it. Let’s delve into it. First, I’m going to explain why we orthodontists like to see children at such a young age, and then discuss what treatment can do at such a young age.
Why So Young?
Although most parents don’t think about making an orthodontist appointment for their children in first or second grade, this is actually the perfect time for a first visit. At this age, teeth are still coming in and the jaw hasn’t fully developed, making it the ideal timeframe for early intervention, if required. Often, taking care of issues now can save time, money, and more invasive treatments in the future.
As I said in the introduction, I like to see children for their first visit no later than age 7. In some cases, earlier is better. I’ve worked with patients as young as 3. Some reasons to take your child for a consultation with an orthodontist earlier than 1st or 2nd grade include:
– Teeth that are obviously overcrowded
– Protruding teeth
– A bite that’s obviously misaligned (for example, an overbite or underbite)
– Difficulty chewing or biting
– Difficulty speaking
– Mouth breathing
– Clenching or grinding of teeth
– Snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep issues
– Thumb sucking or finger sucking
I want to reassure parents that even though the first visit happens at an early age, this does not mean your child will automatically have orthodontic treatment! Many children go for a check-up and leave without the need of orthodontic treatment at that time. However, there are times when it makes sense to go ahead with treatment at an early age.
Orthodontic Issues That Can Be Treated At An Early Age
There are several issues that can be helped tremendously with early intervention including jaw development, overcrowding or overlapping baby teeth, and impacted teeth. If not taken care of early, these can cause serious problems with permanent teeth come in.
Other issues are not as important for dental health reasons but for social reasons, such as protruding teeth or crooked teeth. These may seem minor to parents, even cute, but they can be very embarrassing for children. Taking care of these issues early on can help a child’s self-esteem at a critical time and make them less self-conscious around their peers.
As for treatment options, partial braces, often worn for a short time, are great for straightening teeth. Expanders can be used to widen the palate in order to make room for permanent teeth to come in straight. This can sometimes help with mouth breathing, snoring, and sleep apnea, too.
Removal of select baby teeth can help with impacted teeth and can help permanent teeth grow in straight. Notice that that’s the removal of baby teeth, not permanent teeth. While this used to be common in orthodontics – up to 75% of patients had at least one tooth pulled, in the old days – it’s much less common now. There are still times when it’s the best solution to a problem, however, particularly in cases of overcrowding teeth with no room to move anywhere.
Early Visits Are Important
Orthodontic issues are often visible at a very early age. Baby teeth are the foundation for adult teeth and give us information about possible overcrowding or misalignment. The jaw, though still growing, will show us if it’s lining up properly or needs adjustment. Impacted teeth and other problems can be detected through X-rays and dealt with.
As with many things in life, early intervention is best when it comes to orthodontics. It can save time, money, and heartache to take care of what is a small problem now rather than wait until it’s big problem later.