Orthodontic treatments are most commonly associated with pre-teens and teenagers. However, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends children receive their first orthodontic check-up around the age of 7. In cases where obvious irregularities are noted or dental development is advanced, treatment may be sought at an earlier age.
Most orthodontists agree that there is an optimal time for treating malocclusions (bad bites) and irregularities in the face and jaw. While an early orthodontic check-up does not mean that treatment will begin immediately, or even that it will become necessary, some irregularities are more easily corrected before jaw growth is complete, making it imperative to have problems detected early.
Irregularities in Pediatric Dental Development
Orthodontic problems can sometimes be invisible to the untrained eye. An orthodontist is highly skilled at detecting the smallest clues of irregularities and misalignment. Irregularities are most often a result of genetic factors, but can be exacerbated by environmental factors such as poor oral hygiene and habits such as thumb sucking or a tongue thrust.
There is no substitute for an orthodontic examination, but here are some common signs that irregularity may become a possibility:
Finger or thumb sucking
Chewing or biting problems
Teeth that do not meet or that meet irregularly
Earlier or later loss of baby teeth than normal
Types of Early Orthodontic Intervention
The goal of early intervention and treatment is to guide growth and development, ensuring that more serious problems do not develop in the future. If an irregularity is allowed to progress, there is a chance that later treatment will be more complicated. Your oral health professional can improve the appearance of your child’s teeth and jaw, guide jaw growth, and provide advice and support on correcting poor oral habits.
Early intervention, to avoid complicated problems, tends to fall into three main categories:
The goal of preventive treatment is to avoid the development of malocclusion in a normally developing mouth. A baby tooth may be removed to create space for the corresponding adult tooth to erupt. Conversely, if a baby tooth has been lost too early, a space retainer appliance will hold that space for the corresponding adult tooth.
Interceptive treatments aim to reduce the complexity of a developing problem and eliminate the cause where possible. The ideal candidate for interceptive treatment usually has a mixture of adult and baby teeth. Teeth sizes may be altered or longstanding baby teeth removed to create space for erupting adult teeth.
Comprehensive treatments are commonly used to correct growth irregularities. When the teeth are completely misaligned or the jaws are functioning poorly, orthodontic treatment may be combined with jaw surgery, tooth extractions or restorative surgery. Comprehensive treatment can begin prior to the loss of baby teeth, with several phases of such treatment required to optimize benefits.