The American Association of Orthodontists recommends a child’s first visit with an orthodontist occur by the age of seven, and you may be asking yourself why! Just like periodic check-ups with your dentist and cleanings with your hygienist, the answer generally has to do with detection and prevention of potential future problems.
Orthodontists are trained to evaluate the growth and development of the facial bones. The upper and lower jaws grow both in different ways and at different times. In order to achieve the best possible bite through orthodontics, it’s critical that the upper and lower jaws are the same size and in the same place. Orthodontists use appliances that can modify growth to achieve this goal, but in order for them to work your child must be growing! Treating the upper jaw may best be achieved in the earlier stages of growth, while the lower jaw is usually treated a little later and usually coincides with the growth spurt that happens during puberty. Detecting growth patterns in the early stages of growth and development allows you and your orthodontist to plan for orthopedic treatments of the facial bones at the appropriate time.
The hallmark of orthodontics is moving teeth, however your orthodontist will also play a large role in ensuring that your child’s permanent teeth emerge into the most favorable positions possible. At the age of 7, we expect that your child will have their permanent four front teeth (incisors) and first molars (behind all of the baby teeth. At this stage, your orthodontist will evaluate the positions of the remaining permanent teeth with the goal of ensuring their safe eruption into the mouth. Although not common, it’s possible for these permanent teeth (especially the upper canines) to be in an abnormal position. Early detection of poorly positioned teeth may allow your orthodontist help them erupt naturally and avoid the risk of impaction. Your orthodontist will also check the position of these permanent teeth for the potential for injury. For example, children who have large overbites or upper front teeth that point forward run the risk of damaging or fracturing those teeth if they were to suffer a fall or be hit in the face during sporting activities.
Orthodontic literature favors a single phase of braces when children are adolescents, citing fewer trips to the orthodontist, less burnout of children during long treatment times, and reduced risk of damage to the teeth and gums. However, early detection of facial growth abnormalities, prevention of impacted teeth and reducing risks of trauma to teeth and gums are just some of the benefits of early visits to the orthodontist.