Many people tend to associate orthodontics with teenagers in bulky braces, so it can come as a bit of a surprise to learn that the American Association of Orthodontists recommends all kids have their first orthodontic evaluation by around the age of 7! Even though children this age have mouths that are still developing and a number of baby teeth left, we view early orthodontic visits as a vital part of the preventative approach we take here at Surf City Smiles Orthodontics.
When you bring your young child in for an examination with Dr. Carlson, you give our expert team the opportunity to catch any existing or potential orthodontic issues sooner rather than later. This reduces the risk of those problems becoming a much bigger deal later on in life, which in turn can help prevent those same problems from having a negative impact on your child’s future permanent teeth and bite.
Because we have a number of younger patients, we’ve been able to observe firsthand how starting treatment at the most opportune time can make a positive difference to a child’s overall oral health. If your child is ready for their first orthodontic appointment, we’d love to schedule a consultation for you both so we can take a look at how their mouth is developing! Keep reading below to learn more about some of the things our team will be checking for during this initial evaluation.
Tooth loss and eruption
It’s tempting to think that baby teeth don’t really matter since they eventually fall out anyway. But these primary teeth are actually placeholders for our permanent teeth, so where they’re located and when they are lost really does matter. They also tend to fall out in a fairly specific order, so any significant deviation from that pattern may signify a developmental issue that could need further attention.
At this stage in their dental development, most children will have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors. Any more or less than this could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, or extra teeth. In some of these cases, we may choose to remove a primary tooth early. In others, simply maintaining a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely may be sufficient to keep the neighboring teeth from crowding it.
Crowding and spacing
We will often see spacing issues when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or with teeth that are too small or spaced too far apart. If crowding is the problem, it can often be corrected by expanding the arches or removing certain teeth. An experienced orthodontist like Dr. Carlson will generally be able to tell fairly early on in a child’s life if they’re experiencing problems with excessive crowding or spacing of their teeth, or if these seem like problems they are likely to develop later on.
When the teeth are crooked, it can make it difficult to clean them effectively. They’re also more susceptible to uneven damage and wear. If left untreated, this kind of misalignment can compromise the surrounding gum tissue, affecting the shape and position of it. Although we’re able to align teeth at almost any age, getting a head start on this can help prevent some of that damage in children, giving them a great shot at developing and maintaining a healthy smile!
Overbite (protrusive front teeth)
Front teeth that protrude are often cited as a cosmetic concern, but they may also cause pain in the jaw, and can even affect normal speech patterns. We sometimes need to wait until your child’s mouth has finished growing before permanently correcting an overbite, there are still a number of things we can do in the meantime to help reduce the risk of pain and traumatic injury (while also increasing a child’s self-confidence!)
Most underbites we see are caused by problems with either the teeth or the jaws. The most difficult scenario involves the lower jaw growing too far forward. In a difficult case like this, we will typically need to wait until the patient has finished growing to begin their treatment, usually somewhere in their mid- to late-teens. However, early treatment still has an important role to play by helping patients avoid any bite-shifting or damage to the front teeth. Additionally, underbite patients who receive early treatment between the ages of about 7-10 are also less likely to need jaw surgery when they get older.
A posterior crossbite can lead to crowding, and may also cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other. Expanding the upper jaw in earlier childhood may allow us to reduce crowding and create space for the front teeth to come through uninterrupted. Expansion can also eliminate any shifting that may be present due to a constricted upper jaw.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
In children with deep bites, the top teeth can completely cover the bottom ones when biting, possibly indicating a small lower jaw. In an open bite, the overall bite doesn’t overlap enough. This can often be caused by poor oral habits, including extended finger or thumb sucking. If this is a problem with your child, we’re happy to work with you to eliminate any destructive habits early on, allowing development to continue normally.
Improve your child’s oral health with an early evaluation from Surf City Smiles
When you understand more about the potential issues younger patients can face, it’s easy to see why early orthodontic evaluations are an important part of your child’s overall oral health! Timing really is the key factor, since a child’s jaw bones continue to harden as they get older, and will eventually stop growing. Orthodontic procedures needed after that point will often take more time and be more invasive, like tooth extractions or oral surgery.
Having your young child examined by an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Carlson often helps to prevent the need for orthodontics as an adult, and can even make comprehensive orthodontic treatment faster and more efficient. If you’re ready to schedule your child’s first orthodontic appointment, get in touch with us today to take the first step towards their very best smile!
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