Childhood is an important time for tooth development, with implications that could affect your child’s dental health for life. Your child should see a dentist for the first time earlier than you might think—as early as one-year-old in some cases—and definitely by the age of seven. Your child’s baby teeth start to come in between these ages, setting the stage for proper bite development, tooth spacing, and general dental health. By the age of 8, a dentist will be able to tell you if your child’s teeth have grown properly and are healthy—even if they haven’t lost all their baby teeth yet. If not, they may be a candidate for early orthodontic treatment.

What is Early Orthodontic Treatment?

Early orthodontic treatment, sometimes called Interceptive Orthodontic Treatment, are a range of procedures available to children who have yet to develop all their adult—or “permanent”—teeth. This can include different types of orthodontic devices, like braces, palatal expanders, or headgear, intended to help their primary teeth grow properly spaced.

These treatments usually begin between ages 8-10. By this age, your pediatric dentist can usually tell if or when to start orthodontic treatment, as your child will usually have all their baby teeth in place and any problems will be apparent to a professional dentist.

What are the Benefits of Orthodontic Treatment?

Some of the benefits of getting orthodontic treatment at such a young age are mainly to prevent dental problems from getting worse over time. From aesthetic reasons that help with confidence and socializing growing up, to genuine health concerns that need addressing, some of the benefits include:

Avoiding Tooth Decay

Misaligned teeth can cause tooth decay or other problems in the future, as it’s harder to clean severely crooked or misaligned teeth with a simple toothbrush. It also makes it easier for food to get stuck in hard-to-reach places. This can make them more susceptible to bacteria and decay.

Avoiding Gum Disease

Gingivitis is identified by swollen, bleeding, and puffy-looking gums and can sometimes be a side effect of misaligned teeth, as plaque forms and hardens into tartar because it cannot be cleaned through regular brushing.

Pain Relief

If teeth or even the jaw is misaligned, it can cause muscle pain that can sometimes feel like a headache or toothache. It can also cause bruxism, or teeth grinding as you sleep. Proper jaw and tooth alignment can alleviate these symptoms.

Clearer Speech

The lips, tongue, and teeth all work together in speech functions. If teeth are misaligned, it can cause difficulty in pronunciation and potentially embarrassing speech problems.

Evenly Spaced Teeth

Crowding occurs when teeth don’t have enough room to grow straight. Even baby teeth that grow crowded can make it so primary teeth are crowded when they take their place. Early orthodontic treatment can keep teeth beautiful and straight, ensuring that primary teeth have enough room as your child gets older.

How does Early Orthodontic Treatment work?

Early Orthodontic Treatment is most effective while children are young, and their jawbones are still soft and pliable. This flexibility decreases as we enter our teenage years, meaning that most early orthodontic treatments are more effective and quicker than they are later in life. Most full orthodontic protocols take between 2-3 years to complete, but this is different for every patient.

Many treatments, like braces, happen in phases. The first phase is called the mixed dentition phase when children between 6-9 years old have most of their permanent teeth in place. Different treatments like spacers or headgear are more effective in this time, and for children with craniofacial differences, such as cleft palates, it is a crucial time to receive treatment. Phase 1 treatment can also correct damage done by early childhood habits like thumb sucking.

At ages 10 and above, children can enter phase 2 of treatment. This is also the average age for braces, which can be in place for about 9-12 months and are the most common dental instrument for children. After completing treatment of phase 2, most young patients will experience lasting results and won’t require any additional treatment. However, other placeholder instruments such as retainers are common during this time and may need to be worn intermittently for years afterward.

How Do I Know If My Child Needs Orthodontic Treatment?

Diagnosing the need for interceptive orthodontic treatment is difficult and requires the eye of a trained pediatric dentist. Children should see a dentist at least once per year, preferably twice, and tools like dental x-rays can better help their dentist identify problem areas that may need orthodontic treatment. However, there are a few signs and symptoms that you can look out for that may indicate your child needs treatment. These include:

  • Early, late, or irregular loss of baby teeth.
  • Difficulty chewing their food or biting down fully.
  • Noticeable crookedness or overcrowding of teeth, even baby teeth.
  • Speech defects, especially when pronouncing consonants, or other difficulties enunciating.
  • Regular and consistent biting of their cheeks while eating or speaking.
  • Large gaps in between teeth.
  • Irregular jaw movement or noises.

Any of the four bites of abnormal bites: overbite, crossbite, underbite, or open bite. These must be diagnosed by a dentist.

Schedule An Appointment

As opposed to brushing, flossing, or any other home care oral health habits, early orthodontic treatment requires specialized care by a trained pediatric dentist. Budgeting, discipline, and some trial and error are all needed to make orthodontic care effective—and having a dentist that both you and your child trust is crucial for successful treatment. If you are looking for a dentist to help you and your child on their journey to straighter, stronger teeth, and answer any questions you may have along the way, schedule an appointment with Elevated Orthodontics today! Call, message, or drop by our office, and one of our friendly staff will assist you.