“When should my child be seen by an orthodontist?” is a very common question among parents whose children are seen at our office. When talking about orthodontics, most people think of the teen years as the prime time for orthodontic treatment. For the most part, this is correct. However, there are several good reasons for an orthodontist to evaluate children at an earlier age. In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends an evaluation by an orthodontist no later than age 7.
Why age 7? This recommendation by the AAO gives the orthodontist a chance to evaluate each child’s overall growth and development and determine if there are any immediate concerns. Often, treatment can be deferred until later into the teen years. However, there are certain conditions that the orthodontist can intercept and correct at a younger age, which can lead to significant overall benefits for the patient. Since every patient is unique, the orthodontist’s overall goal is to come up with the most appropriate treatment plan and, if treatment is needed, to determine the right time to begin treatment.
At the initial checkup (or consult) with the orthodontist you can expect an up-close look at your child’s teeth, followed by a discussion of any problems at hand. The orthodontist will then come up with an overall treatment goal, as well as discuss duration of treatment and finances, if appropriate. The orthodontist may determine that the patient’s growth and development is on track and nothing needs to be done. Great news and great piece of mind for the parents! At some consultations, the orthodontist may detect minor growth or tooth discrepancies and may opt to treat with just simple observation and monitoring. Or, the orthodontist may see that there is an immediate indication to start treatment in an effort to correct an already existing problem. Seeking the opinion of the orthodontist can determine what the best course of action is for your child. And that’s what it’s all about: determining if there is a problem to begin with and what the best approach is to correct it.
In life, it is usually better to be too early than too late. The same is true in orthodontics. In some circumstances, the orthodontist can deliver outcomes that may not be possible at a later age. Orthodontists can detect problems with: jaw growth, developing and erupting teeth, harmful habits and the bite, to name a few. We have treatment options that can sometimes make orthodontic treatment faster and less difficult at a later age and prevent more serious problems from arising.
Usually the type of care or treatment that is recommended at this younger (generally pre-teen) age is referred to as “interceptive orthodontics.” The orthodontic treatment is aimed at addressing a specific problem. Not every problem can or will be dealt with in this first/interceptive phase of orthodontic treatment. We strive to only correct specific issues that are best dealt with at an early age and keep the treatment time brief, usually less than one year.
There are a wide variety of treatment options available for the interceptive phase of orthodontic treatment. The first goal is to thoroughly diagnose the problem at hand and then come up with the most appropriate treatment plan with the least burden of care. In fact, sometimes it’s as simple as removing a baby tooth or two, to allow easier eruption of the permanent teeth. Other times, the orthodontist may use an appliance like a jaw expander or a retainer to combat skeletal grown discrepancies. Braces placed on the front permanent teeth may also be used to help align crooked or rotated teeth, or to create space for teeth to erupt into.
Despite undergoing the interceptive phase of orthodontic treatment, there may be factors in each patient that require subsequent orthodontic treatment after more permanent teeth have erupted and the patient experiences more growth and development. This is most often referred to as “comprehensive orthodontic treatment” and includes a thorough diagnosis and treatment plan leading to an improvement in the appearance and function of all the teeth and jaws. Comprehensive orthodontic treatment, like braces, is carried out after most or all of the baby teeth have fallen out and most or all of the permanent teeth have made it into the mouth. This is the treatment that most people think of in the teenage years.
Lastly, if your child is past the age of 7 and has never seen an orthodontist, don’t fret. Even if your child is beyond this age, it is still a good idea to set up a consultation with an orthodontist. At the very least, be sure to ask your pediatric dentist if they feel it’s appropriate timing for your child to be evaluated by an orthodontist. There is no harm in taking it upon yourself to schedule a checkup with an orthodontist even if your child’s dentist has not broached this subject yet. At Fox Kids Dentistry & Orthodontics, we do not require a referral to see our specialists and we offer complementary orthodontic consultations! Call our office today and we’d be happy to see you.