What Is Early Orthodontic Intervention and Is It Right for Your Child?
An early orthodontic evaluation can help you prevent issues for your child later.
As a parent, you naturally want your child’s teeth and gums to develop well. In your quest to keep them as clean and healthy as possible, you may also notice issues with alignment. Sometimes these issues are obvious, and braces are on your radar.
Other times, subtle alignment issues go undetected because they are not cosmetic in nature.
Cosmetically obvious or not, malocclusions (crooked teeth or misaligned bites) can lead to a host of dental issues, from uneven tooth wear and improper chewing to speech impediments. If your general or pediatric dentist notices any early signs of these problems in your child, they may recommend early orthodontic intervention.
How can these services be useful for your child and why are they often necessary?
What Is Early Orthodontic Intervention?
It may come as a surprise to hear your dentist recommend early orthodontic treatment for your child. After all, aren’t those services normally reserved for older patients?
In fact, by performing early orthodontic interventions when your child is still young, dentists can often correct alignment issues before they snowball into bigger dental problems.
While this approach may seem out of the ordinary, experts recommend that every child should have their first orthodontic evaluation by the age of seven.
Why Is This the Case?
Many orthodontic issues are easier to treat in younger patients. For instance, this can be the ideal time to evaluate issues like tooth crowding.
As your child loses their baby teeth and their permanent teeth begin to grow in, your dentist may notice that certain teeth are not aligning correctly. If they need to reposition them, the process is often easier and quicker to perform when their jaw is still growing and all of their permanent teeth are not yet in place.
Who Should Receive an Evaluation?
As mentioned, all patients should undergo an early orthodontic evaluation by the age of seven. However, some patients may require these services even earlier. These include patients who have obvious, visible orthodontic problems, such as:
- Rotated teeth
- Crowded teeth
- Open bite
While those signs are often easy to spot, there may also be more subtle signs that malocclusion or other alignment issues are taking place. Some of the less-obvious symptoms to look for in your child include:
- Mouth breathing
- Teeth grinding (bruxism)
- Biting the inner cheek
- Shifting jaw
- Noisy, popping jaw
- Speech impediment
- Losing baby teeth outside of the typical age range
Potentially Damaging Habits or Behaviors
You may also notice that your child is engaging in habits or behaviors that could affect their teeth and gums down the road. For example, thumb sucking and long-term pacifier use can lead to bite issues known as pacifier teeth. In patients with pacifier teeth, misaligned bites or malocclusions are more common.
While many children suck their thumbs or fingers when they’re first born, most will grow out of this phase by the age of two to four. Though there is no dental condition directly linked to this habit, it can lead to issues as they get older. Dental problems associated with chronic thumb sucking past a healthy age include:
- Misaligned bite
- Palate issues
- Speech problems
Common Early Orthodontic Treatments
Your child’s dentist may recommend an early orthodontic intervention if they notice visible or subtle signs of misalignment. If they can catch and treat these issues early, the procedures to correct them are often gentler and less invasive. Let’s take a look at some of the most common techniques.
In some patients, dentists can use a mechanism such as a palatal expander to treat a child’s bite issues successfully during childhood. If they wait until the child reaches adulthood to correct this problem, the issue may require more complicated oral surgery.
Palatal expanders can also be used to correct other early orthodontic issues, including overcrowding and crooked teeth.
Partial braces will go on your child’s upper or lower front teeth only. They are designed to provide early, minor corrections for crooked teeth. Instead of putting a bracket on every tooth, the dentist will only place them on your child’s front four or six teeth.
Not only are partial braces a more esthetic choice than full braces, but they’re also easier for young patients to clean and maintain. They allow your dentist to target only the specific teeth that need attention, offering a more direct treatment approach.
Retainers are custom-fitted dental devices that your child will wear over their teeth. They are used to retain teeth in their new, fully aligned position after your child has completed their treatment with braces.
Your child may wear a removable retainer for a few months to a year. They’re designed to be worn continuously, only being removed for your child to eat or brush their teeth.
Set the Stage for Long-Term Dental Success
Early orthodontic treatment is often all that’s required to successfully and permanently correct a child’s alignment issues.
However, there may be patients who require an additional set of braces or clear aligners down the road. If they’re accustomed to the process and know what to expect, they’ll have a foundation of healthy habits to build on when that time comes!
This is another reason to talk to your general or pediatric dentist about early orthodontic intervention. The techniques your child learns now can serve them in the future and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
Learn More About Early Orthodontic Intervention
We offer early intervention orthodontics at our Hastings and Grand Island offices, and we’d love to share more information with you and answer any questions you may have. Feel free to reach out to us today to schedule an appointment!