Why your child should see an orthodontist by age 7: If you’re a parent or caregiver, you’re probably no stranger to dental checkups for your child. It’s common knowledge that regular visits to your family dentist help maintain their oral health throughout childhood and into adulthood, but did you know that early orthodontic evaluations are also an important part of keeping a child’s smile happy and healthy? In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children have an initial visit with an orthodontist by around the age of 7!
You might be wondering why that is, since most young kids still have developing mouths with many baby teeth left. The truth is, an orthodontic evaluation doesn’t always equal orthodontic treatment. Here at Hall & Kopel Hot Springs Orthodontics, we only recommend immediate treatment for a small fraction of the younger patients we see. But if that’s the case, then what is the basis for the AAO recommendation?
It’s because even without treatment, these early orthodontic visits are valuable! They give us the chance to check for and diagnose any potential orthodontic issues, from those already present to any at risk of developing in the future. By age 7, most children will already have their permanent front teeth in place. Their first set of adult molars will be grown in, too. These are a bit like dental “landmarks,” and an experienced orthodontist will use them to identify the way a child’s bite is likely to develop as they grow.
If you have a child ready for their first orthodontic visit, you may not be sure what that entails and what comes after that initial visit. To help you understand more about this important oral health tool, let’s look at what you can expect from an early orthodontic evaluation—and beyond!
What is an early orthodontic evaluation like?
This first appointment is all about assessing your child’s smile. Dr. Hall or Dr. Koppel will check for any issues that could warrant orthodontic treatment, whether now or at some point in the future. Identifying problems now gives us the opportunity to correct them before they develop into something more serious. During your child’s visit, our doctors will be looking for evidence of any orthodontic issues. We’ll discuss some of the most common ones below.
We expect that most children will have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors by around the age of 7. Any more or less than this could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, or extra teeth.
Baby teeth are the placeholders for our permanent teeth, so they matter more than you might think (even though they all fall out eventually anyway!) They also tend to fall out in a fairly specific order. If there’s any noticeable deviation from that pattern, it may signal a developmental issue that requires further attention.
Crooked teeth can be harder to brush and floss effectively, and they also tend to be more susceptible to uneven wear and tear. If these issues are left untreated over time, it can eventually affect both the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue.
These problems can occur when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or if a child has teeth that are too small or spaced too far apart.
Front teeth that noticeably protrude are usually viewed as a cosmetic concern, but they can also increase the risk of potential injury to the permanent teeth. Speech issues can develop as a result of an overbite as well.
Underbites can be caused by problems with either the teeth or jaws. This usually involves the lower jaw growing too far forward, or the upper jaw growing deficiently.
A posterior crossbite can cause crowding, and may also cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other to fit the top and bottom teeth together. A narrow upper jaw can be associated with a narrow nasal passage sometimes, too.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
These bite problems occur vertically. In bites that are too deep, the top teeth completely cover the bottom ones when biting, which can indicate a small lower jaw. With an open bite, the overall bite doesn’t overlap enough.
What happens next?
One of the biggest reasons why we love early orthodontic evaluations is because they allow us to take a proactive approach with a child’s orthodontic care, instead of simply being reactive. When we provide children with the orthodontic care they need at the most optimal time, this is called Phase I treatment. This is often initiated so that we can achieve the kind of results we may not be able to obtain once a child’s face and jaws have finished growing. Phase I treatment encourages proper jaw development that will help better accommodate the permanent teeth, improve how the upper and lower jaws fit together, and reduce the risk for damage due to untreated issues.
During Phase I treatment, our doctors will often use fixed or removable orthodontic appliances for a specified period of time. This can be done with one or both jaws, and will correct poor jaw growth, create space for developing teeth, and help the facial muscles develop more normally. Once the initial phase is complete, the appliance will be removed and a period of observation will follow. Patients may be given a retainer to keep the teeth stable during this time, and our doctors will also continue monitoring their mouth every 4-6 months to ensure things are proceeding as they should be.
Most Phase I patients will eventually need Phase II treatment to continue the stabilizing process and move the teeth into the final desired positions. That means braces or aligners will be used to help finalize the bite correction and create a beautifully aligned smile.
Give your child’s smile the best start with Hall & Koppel Hot Springs Orthodontics
Our practice is happy to offer complimentary consultations with Dr. Hall or Dr. Koppel for all of our potential patients! If they find that no immediate treatment is necessary for your child, we’ll invite you to continue visiting our office once or twice a year so we can continue monitoring their smile. This will allow us to keep up with their dental development and catch any emerging issues early on. These recall visits are also free of charge.
If you’re in Hot Springs and have a child ready for their first orthodontic visit, get in touch with us today to schedule a FREE evaluation. Our talented team is here to help you take the first steps towards a smile that will last your child a lifetime!