You may think of teens or tweens when you hear the word “orthodontics.” You may also think of traditional metal braces. If so, you may be surprised to hear that the American Association of Orthodontists recommends children have their first orthodontic evaluation around age seven (and, at Foothill Orthodontic Specialists, the x-rays and evaluation are always 100% free!).
Since most of us associate orthodontics with braces and teens, seven may seem pretty young. After all, most seven-year-olds are still growing and have baby teeth. But it turns out, that’s actually the point!
An initial exam by experienced orthodontists like Dr. Chandler and Dr. Anderson can catch any possible orthodontic issues before they become serious problems. This gives us the opportunity to prevent any negative impact on future permanent teeth. We believe in preventive care at Foothill orthodontics! We treat many young patients, and starting treatment at the right time can make a positive difference to their overall oral health. If your child is ready for their first orthodontic appointment, we would love to meet them and check for a number of issues to determine if orthodontic treatment is needed or will be needed. Keep reading below to learn more about what we look for.
Tooth Loss and Eruption
Even though baby teeth (also called “primary teeth) eventually fall out, they are still important. They’re placeholders for permanent teeth, so how they’re positioned and when they fall out gives us important information. These primary teeth tend to fall out in a specific order, so anything outside of this pattern could be a sign of a developmental issue that we need to pay close attention to.
Your child should have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors by the time they are seven. If your child has more or less than this, it could indicate a problem with missing, crowded, or extra teeth. In some cases, we may choose to remove a primary tooth early or we may want to maintain a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely in order to prevent bigger problems later on.
Crowding and spacing
Experienced orthodontists like Dr. Chandler and Dr. Anderson will be able to tell early on if your child is experiencing problems with excessive crowding or spacing of their teeth, or if he or she is likely to develop such problems later on. Spacing issues can show up when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or with teeth that are too small or spaced apart. If crowding turns out to be an issue, it can often be definitively corrected by expanding the arches, or temporarily alleviated by removing certain teeth.
Teeth can be straightened at any age. As a matter of fact, over a quarter of current orthodontic patients are over the age of eighteen. However, crooked teeth are more susceptible to uneven damage and wear, and over a long enough period of time, this can affect the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue by compromising it. Correcting crooked teeth at an earlier age can help prevent some of this excessive wear and tear, which gives your child a head start on a healthier smile.
Overbite (or protrusive front teeth)
Aside from concerns about the cosmetic appearance, front teeth that obviously protrude can make them more susceptible to traumatic injuries, cause pain in the jaw, and possible speech issues as well. We aren’t always able to permanently correct an overbite until your child’s mouth has finished growing, but there are still several things we can do to help reduce the risk of traumatic injury. Doing so tends to make things easier for them psychosocially.
Underbites can be caused by problems with the teeth or jaws. Early treatment is very important in order to avoid bite-shifting and damage to the front teeth. In fact, research has shown that addressing an underbite early (prior to age 10) is very important. We have several methods we can use to try to normalize the bite as early as possible. This included something called “jumping the bite.” We’ll use braces or appliances to get a start on a young child’s underbite before finishing treatment when they reach their teen years. If your child receives this early treatment between age 7-10, they are less likely to need jaw surgery in the future.
A posterior crossbite can cause crowding, and may also cause your child’s jaw to shift from one side to the other. This shifting, called a “functional shift,” is quite common with a narrow upper jaw and posterior crossbite(s), and, if not corrected early, can lead to asymmetric growth of the jaw. When we’re able to expand the upper jaw early, we can reduce crowding and create space for the front teeth to come through without problems; plus, early expansion can eliminate the “functional shift,” with the aim to prevent jaw asymmetries.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
These bite problems occur vertically, and can usually be spotted by the time your child is ready for their first orthodontic appointment. If the bite is too deep, the top teeth completely cover the bottom ones when biting, which can be a sign of a small lower jaw. In an open bite, the overall bite doesn’t overlap enough, which may be a sign that there is a finger, thumb, or tongue habit causing dental problems. If this is the case, our team will happily work with you and your child to get rid of bad habits that are causing damage to your child’s teeth early on so that it doesn’t negatively affect their development.
Early evaluations lead to healthier smiles with Foothill Orthodontics
Early orthodontic evaluations are an important part of giving your child the best chance for a healthy smile that will last a lifetime. During a child’s teen years, their jaw bones begin to harden and will eventually stop growing. Any orthodontic procedures performed after this will often take more time and be more invasive, such as tooth extraction or oral surgery. Early orthodontic treatment in children can keep them from needing more complicated orthodontic treatment as an adult and can reduce the amount of treatment needed overall. Interceptive treatment like early evaluations can make comprehensive orthodontic treatment faster and better!
Your smile is our first priority at Foothill Orthodontics. We work hard to create a friendly, stress-free environment that makes you feel like family from the moment you walk in our door. Our talented team is committed to providing the highest quality orthodontic care for patients of all ages in the Salt Lake Valley, North Salt Lake, Bountiful, and the surrounding communities. If you’re ready to schedule your child’s first orthodontic appointment, get in touch with us today and we’ll help you take the first step towards a beautiful, healthy smile for them!