When is the right time for a child’s first orthodontic visit?
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that a child’s first orthodontic visit, or evaluation, should occur no later than seven years of age. This is an age when children are in the mixed dentition stage, meaning that their bite consists of both adult and primary teeth. Typically, at this age, some primary teeth have been lost or are loose, and some permanent teeth have erupted in to the mouth. For many children, this is an important time for long-term orthodontic treatment planning, even if no treatment is needed at this time.
What are some of the things that an orthodontist will evaluate at this age?
- Space. Is there enough space in each jaw for all of the new teeth? Is there too much?
- Jaw relationships. Are the jaws growing in harmony with each other and with the rest of the head?
- Alignment. Although perfect alignment is not necessary at this early stage of development, excessive rotations or poorly positioned teeth can put them at risk of wear or injury.
- Habits. Sometimes habits such as thumb sucking or tongue thrusting can prevent teeth from erupting into their proper bite relationship.
- Airway/breathing. Mouth breathing and other issues can affect not only the development of the bite, but the overall health of the child. A growing concern in children is sleep apnea, which is often thought of as an adult condition. The orthodontist will screen for proper breathing, and may refer to the child’s physician if issues are apparent or suspected.
What should parents be aware of?
I frequently see children whose parents are concerned that many of the kids in their child’s class are in braces. Some are alarmed that this may be over-treatment, and others are concerned that they may have missed the early treatment boat. The key is for the parents, the child’s dentist, and the orthodontist to understand your child’s specific needs and to arrive at an appropriate overview, including identification of potential problems, evaluating their urgency, determining the need and potential timing of treatment, and finally a plan of treatment. Often, only monitoring of teeth eruption and development is indicated. Interceptive treatment is the category of orthodontic treatment that is done before all of the permanent teeth have erupted, which usually occurs about age 12. Interceptive treatment should be considered if there’s a clear advantage in not waiting until the child is the permanent petition, or adult bite. This would include the previously mentioned issues such as lack of space, the presence of harmful habits, and/or jaw growth issues. Potential treatment at this age includes space management, resolution of harmful bite problems or habits, and guidance of jaw growth in some cases. The main objective of the early orthodontic evaluation is for the parents to have the right information when it comes to understanding and possibly addressing their child’s needs.
The bottom line:
The child’s first orthodontic visit should be viewed as a screening and education tool. It is recommended that it occur no later than age 7, but it is also advisable that a child be seen earlier if issues are noticed. If you’d like to discuss your child’s situation, or schedule your child’s first orthodontic visit, click here for contact information and we’d be more than happy to help you: contact us.