While most orthodontic treatment doesn’t commence until a child is older or entering adolescence, it’s still a good idea for children as young as 6 to undergo an orthodontic evaluation. An early orthodontic evaluation may reveal emerging problems with the child’s bite and jaw development, and help inform the best course of treatment when the time is right.
A specialty within dentistry, orthodontics focuses on the study and treatment of malocclusions or poor bites. Orthodontists are most concerned with the interaction of the face, jaw and teeth, and whether these structures are developing normally and in the right position.
It’s possible to detect the beginning stages of a malocclusion as a child’s permanent teeth begin to erupt, sometime between ages 6 and 12. Children at this stage may begin to experience crowding of the teeth (or the opposite, too much space between teeth), protruding teeth, extra or missing teeth or problems with jawbone development. While these tend to be congenital (inherited conditions), some problems can be caused by excessive thumb-sucking, mouth breathing, or dental disease stemming from tooth decay. In some cases, “interceptive” orthodontic treatment might be necessary during this early period to improve the chances that future treatment for a malocclusion or poor jaw development will be successful.
An early orthodontic evaluation should be undertaken no later than age 7 to be most effective. It’s also advisable to have regular checkups beginning around the child’s first birthday to spot developing teeth and jaw problems even when only primary teeth are present. The orthodontic evaluation itself takes advantage of an orthodontist’s trained eye to locate more subtle problems with teeth and jaw growth. Knowing this well in advance can make it easier in the long run when orthodontic treatment takes place when they’re older. Waiting until after the full emergence of permanent teeth and further jaw and facial development to evaluate for treatment could make it more difficult or even impossible to correct malocclusion issues found later.
The most effective dental care starts early in life. Not only treating immediate problems but also anticipating those that will require treatment later will help ensure your child will have healthy teeth for life.
If you would like more information on childhood orthodontic evaluations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Early Orthodontic Evaluation.”