It’s important to bring your children in for a screening by the age of 7. Yes, 7. This does not mean treatment will start right away. In fact, on average, treatment for the most common orthodontic issues does not start until between the ages of 9 and 14. But that does not mean you should wait that long until you have your child screened by an orthodontist! Early screenings can catch all kinds of issues that may lay ahead.
But 7? Yes, 7. Per the American Association of Orthodontists, children should have their first orthodontic screening by the age of 7. But why so young? These are some of the reasons why visiting the orthodontist earlier rather than later can greatly help your child.
Some orthodontic issues may resolve themselves without any orthodontic treatment. Others might persist and grow. By having an orthodontist take a look at your child’s teeth earlier, they can monitor and see how quickly or slowly changes are occurring. All children grow at different rates – and have different lifestyles that may affect their development. Knowing where your child’s teeth were at age 7 can help the orthodontist know how aggressive treatments may need to be once the time comes to commence orthodontic treatment.
Noting Developmental Markers
Since the first adult molars tend to emerge around the time a child is 6 years old, it is good to start noting this and the child’s other developmental markers to determine how they are progressing and what – if any – treatments may need to be implemented in the future. It is especially important to determine if there will be enough room in the child’s mouth for all of their permanent teeth to emerge in a healthy fashion. And if it appears there may be an issue, action can be taken early to curtail more aggressive, invasive, painful, and lengthy treatments later.
Treatment to Prevent Issues from Worsening
While treatment for the more common orthodontic issues usually starts between the ages of 9 and 14, there are some conditions that can be fixed quicker and easier if detected at an early stage. The use of orthodontic apparatuses and/or behavior modification can stop some issues from worsening or evening beginning in the first place.
Advanced cases may benefit from early implantation of orthodontic apparatuses. Issues like protruding teeth, crossbite, or crowding can be remedied quickly when caught at a young age.
- Protruding Teeth: Severely protruding teeth are more susceptible to fractures and chipping. To reduce the need for surgery later, braces and headgear can guide protruding teeth and correct an underbite at a young age.
- Crossbite: A palatal expander can be installed in the mouth to gently widen the upper jaw. This gradually provides more space for the upper teeth so when the mouth is closed they are not residing behind the lower teeth. When applied at a young age, the jaw is still growing quickly, so the guided expansion can be rather painless. If not treated early, more invasive and complicated actions might be necessary. Oral surgery sometimes is the only way to treat a crossbite if it was not addressed for some time.
- Crowding: Tooth extraction or a palatal expander can generate more space in a mouth for permanent teeth to emerge. While tooth extraction may seem extreme, when done at an early age, it is much less invasive than when done on older patients as less of the tooth is exposed and therefore the smaller gum line can heal faster.
Certain habits at a young age can lead to orthodontic issues later in life. The mouth, teeth, and jaws are more susceptible when a child is young and may develop in an undesirable manner due to certain behaviors. Among these behaviours are mouth breathing, thumb sucking, and tongue thrusting. By encouraging children who may engage in these activities frequently to practice certain exercises and modify their behavior, they could avoid complicated, painful, and expensive procedures later down the road.
Of course we are not suggesting that if your child exhibits any of these behaviors that they should be forced to stop immediately. Children develop at different rates and hit certain stages of life at different times. Yet, some behaviors – especially if done in excess outside the norm – should be given some attention.
- Mouth Breathing: This is a pattern of breathing in which the mouth remains open at all times and passes air straight to the lungs. The tongue and muscles in the face tend to not function and develop properly if this type of breathing persists potentially resulting in the jaws growing and developing in an unusual way. Orthodontic issues may follow. If the orthodontist notices the child is a mouth breather, certain exercises might be suggested to build up muscles and remind the child to breathe through the nose and not only the mouth.
- Thumb Sucking: While thumb sucking might not be a big concern at first and seems natural in younger children, if the behavior persists it can drastically move the teeth and influence the growth and development of the jaw. The orthodontist can suggest different methods, techniques, and exercises to encourage a child who is sucking their thumb later in life.
- Tongue Thrusting: When the tongue pushes too hard against the teeth, or even past them, it can gradually move the teeth resulting in misplaced teeth that can cause a speech impediment. By exercising and training the tongue as a young child, it is possible to stop the tongue thrusting behavior and therefore reduce unnecessary pressure on the teeth that can push them out.
Even though you may be doing all you can to ensure your child develops in a healthy and happy way, there are orthodontic issues that can be difficult to spot. By bringing your child in at an