Is there a more iconic image of orthodontics than that of the awkward teenager in bulky metal braces? It’s a stereotype with staying power, for sure! It can be surprising to learn that the American Association of Orthodontists recommends a child have their first orthodontic evaluation by or around the age of 7 - and we agree! Having an experienced orthodontist examine your child when they still have their baby teeth and their mouth is still developing allows them to pick up on any potential issues early on.
Catching these issues before they become a problem can help prevent any negative impact on the future permanent teeth. This is called preventative care, and it’s something we strongly believe in at Bennett Orthodontics. It can have such a positive impact on the oral health of our younger patients when we’re able to diagnose and treat issues before they become a big deal!
During this initial evaluation, we’ll be looking for a number of issues to determine if treatment will be needed now or in the future. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.
Tooth Loss and Eruption
Baby teeth, also known as primary teeth, are the placeholders for permanent ones. The transition from primary to permanent is an important one, with most baby teeth falling out in a relatively specific order. If there’s any significant deviation from that pattern, it could signal a developmental issue that needs attention.
By the age of 7, your child should have a mix of baby teeth and permanent teeth, including at least four permanent molars and two to four permanent incisors. If they have more or less than this, there’s potential for problems with missing, crowding, or extra teeth. Sometimes removing a primary tooth early, or maintaining a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely, can prevent bigger problems later on down the line.
Crowding and Spacing
You’ll often notice fairly early on in your child’s life if they already have or will have problems with excessive crowding or spacing of their teeth. Spacing issues can show up when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or if your child has teeth that are too small or too spaced apart. Crowding can be treated by an experienced orthodontist, like Dr. Bennett, who will often expand the arches or remove teeth to open up the mouth.
Teeth can be, and very often are, successfully aligned at older ages. It’s important to note, however, that crooked teeth are more susceptible to uneven damage and wear. Allowing them to go untreated for years can affect the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue, which compromises it. Aside from healthier gums and a straighter smile, correcting crooked teeth at an earlier age has the added benefit of promoting a more positive self-image.
Overbite or Protrusive Front Teeth
There are some obvious cosmetic concerns with front teeth that are obviously protruding, but there can be physical concerns, as well. Overbites can cause pain in the jaw, and even possible speech issues. Although we aren’t always able to permanently correct an overbite until your child’s mouth has finished growing, we can help to reduce the severity of the problem, making things a little easier on them until that growth is complete.
Underbites are generally caused by either tooth or jaw problems. The most difficult scenario is when the lower jaw grows too far forward, and with these kinds of cases, we’ll typically need to wait until the patient has finished growing to finish their treatment, around age 16. Even though there’s a waiting period involved, receiving early treatment is highly recommended. To avoid bite-shifting and damage to the front teeth, we’ll want to try and normalize the bite as much and as early as possible.
If we notice an underbite in your young child, we can do something called “jump the bite”, using braces or a headgear. This allows us to get a handle on it before they complete the treatment in their teen years. Underbite patients who receive early treatment between the ages of about 7 and 10 are much less likely to need jaw surgery at a later stage of development.
A posterior crossbite can cause crowding, and it can also cause the jaw shifting. If we are able to catch this in an early evaluation, we can work on expanding the upper jaw between the ages of about 7-10. This will reduce crowding, and create the kind of space needed for the front teeth to erupt. Expansion can also eliminate any shifting that’s present due to the upper jaw being constricted.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
Recognizable by the time your child is around 7, these are basically vertical problems with the bite. Bites that are too deep (the top teeth completely cover the bottom ones when biting) can be a sign of a small lower jaw. Bites that don’t overlap enough (open bites) could signal that there is a finger, thumb, or tongue habit causing dental problems. If that’s the case, we’ll happily work with you and your child on why eliminating these destructive habits early is so important for the sake of normal development.
Early evaluations equal happy smiles
Early orthodontic evaluations can play an important role in giving your child the best chance for a straighter, healthier, beautiful smile! Playing “wait and see” with orthodontics until there’s an actual problem can wind up being costlier, more time consuming, and ultimately, more painful for your child.
Most children will have lost all their baby teeth by the time they’re entering the teen years. By the time your child is finishing out their teens and heading into their early twenties, the jaw bones will harden and stop growing. Any orthodontic procedures performed after this point will take more time, and can sometimes involve things like tooth extraction or oral surgery. Receiving early orthodontic treatment as a child can sometimes help prevent the need for orthodontics at all as an adult, and definitely reduces the need for extractions or surgery in the future.
Though some treatments will require that all the permanent teeth are fully erupted, interceptive treatment like these early orthodontic evaluations can make comprehensive treatment faster and better.
Early orthodontic evaluations in Mobile
If you’re in Mobile or the surrounding area, and have a child who is under or around 7 years old, why not get in touch with our experienced team at Bennett Orthodontics today to schedule an initial evaluation for them? We would love to help you and your child take the first step towards a bright and beautiful smile that will last a lifetime!