In my practice parents often ask me if it is better to wait until their child’s baby teeth are all out before seeing an orthodontist. They tell me that they “don’t want to have to do braces twice.” But seeing an orthodontist early on, by the age of 7, can often help many children avoid complicated orthodontics later, as early intervention may prevent teeth from erupting improperly and can aid in the proper formation of the jaws.
By the age of seven, most children should have a panoramic image taken that shows the positioning of all the permanent and primary (baby) teeth. In that image we sometimes find that a permanent tooth is congenitally missing (is not going to form), and we then know that we have to take extra special care of the baby tooth until the child is old enough for an implant to be placed. Or we may see that a permanent tooth is erupting sideways and that early removal of the baby tooth that sits over it can help that tooth drop down into place without the need for future surgical intervention.
In an orthodontic examination, the jaws are assessed for whether there will be enough room for the teeth to fit. If one or both jaws are found to be too small, a palatal expander or other device placed at a young age can widen and grow the jaw to help make room for the teeth to erupt in a more normal position, decreasing the need for future tooth extractions. When children have issues with breathing and speech, these growth-promoting early orthodontic treatments can help improve those issues as well.
Early orthodontic assessment and intervention (when needed) is helpful in making second stage orthodontics more simple. Not all cases require immediate orthodontic intervention. In these situations, orthodontists will monitor your child’s development at regular office visits and will determine the appropriate time for treatment if needed. If you have a young child with a developing dentition, ask your dentist to recommend an orthodontist in your area who is skilled at early intervention orthodontics.
This article was written by Dr. Cristi Cheek and originally appeared in the March issue of the EAST COBBER magazine, on page 11. Click here to view the digital edition.