One of the most frequent questions I get asked as an orthodontist is "at what age should I take my child to come see you at the office?" Most are surprised to hear that the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that every child be screened by an orthodontist at the age of 7.
"Seven?!" I hear. "Isn't that a little young for braces?" In many cases, yes, it’s a little young for braces, but it isn’t too young to be visiting an orthodontist! A child’s first visit isn’t just about assessing whether it’s time for braces. This initial screening allows the orthodontist to begin early monitoring of your child’s growth and habits to ensure you, your child, and your orthodontist are able to work together to foster your child’s dental and orthodontic health as they continue to grow. Typically, this monitoring should occur every six months. Therefore, if and/or when your orthodontist identifies the point that your child *is* ready for braces, they are able to act within the right window of time to address the concern.
While the large majority of children do not require treatment, and merely require monitoring, there are some specific instances where preventive orthodontic care would be beneficial for your child. At this initial exam, your orthodontist will be evaluating different aspects of growth and habits to determine if early treatment is right for your child. Some of the most common instances in which interventionary treatment is recommended include crossbites, habits, and unpredictable permanent tooth eruption.
- Crossbites of teeth in the front: Crossbites are when one or several upper front teeth are positioned behind the lower teeth. While these situations can often be addressed later on when they are older, leaving your child in a crossbite may cause unwanted gum recession or even the loss of a permanent tooth. It is also better to fix these situations early on before your child hits their growth spurt because it is much more predictable to correct when they are younger.
- Habits: Many children have a thumb-sucking habit (or pacifier habit) that sometimes does not stop as the child matures and continues into the ages where their permanent teeth are starting to come in. Having a thumb-sucking habit at age 7 or older can cause significant bite and smile issues for your child, and oftentimes, they need additional help to break the habit and prevent these issues. Orthodontists are often able to assist through the use of appliances in deterring a child from continuing this harmful habit. Or, if the child has halted the habit on their own, but it has already caused some issues in their bite, your orthodontist can help correct that harm – possibly preventing the need for more invasive treatment in the future.
- Unpredictable permanent tooth eruption: Probably the most common concern orthodontists are looking to address in early orthodontic intervention is the unpredictable growth (eruption) of permanent teeth into the mouth. Visiting the orthodontist at age 7 gives them the opportunity to evaluate this potential problem. During routine X-rays, we often find teeth coming in the wrong way, and sometimes they are starting to cause harm to the other permanent teeth. (I think there may be some words missing here?) to redirect these teeth and allow enough room for all permanent teeth to grow in.
Learning about these and other potential orthodontic concerns early in your child’s growth allows your orthodontist to come up with a customized plan to treat these problems at the best time and in the best way for your child’s comfort and development.
Ultimately, the goal with any early orthodontic intervention is to identify and intercept any emerging problems by guiding the growth and development of facial and jaw bones. This can often alleviate the need for lengthy, costly, and sometimes very uncomfortable treatment that would be required as a teen or adult if the issues weren’t addressed while the child was still growing. Learn more about the benefits of braces for kids on our Treatment by Age page.
At Smile Doctors, we are always careful and considerate in our treatment planning and know that children, particularly at such a young age, have a set amount of cooperation they are willing or able to give us as their orthodontic care providers, and each child is different. We do our best to take advantage of whatever cooperation is available when we can to make the most difference in your child’s development.
Again, believe me when I say that the need for early treatment is more of the exception that the norm. Ofttimes, we use your child’s initial exam and regular follow-up visits (typically in 6-month intervals) to just keep monitoring your child until most or all of her or his permanent teeth are coming in, and we can get all treatment done in one fell customized swoop.
Is your child 7 years or older? Find your nearest location and give Smile Doctors a call to get them set up for their first initial consultation, which is absolutely FREE, to make sure they are set up for success as they continue to grow!
Dr. Jae Brimhall is a licensed orthodontist practicing with Smile Doctors in Arlington, TX. Learn more about what to expect at your first visit with Smile Doctors by visiting our "What to expect" page.