As a parent, you probably already know that regular dental visits are an essential part of keeping your child’s smile healthy. What you may not know is that orthodontic evaluations are just as important! Early exams can help ensure a healthy and functioning mouth, but since many people tend to associate orthodontics with teens in braces, you might not even be aware that this is an option. That’s why your child should see an orthodontist by age 7.
Here at Jennings Orthodontics, we see patients of all ages, from children right up to senior citizens. After all, it’s never too early or late to take an interest in oral health!
Yet parents are often confused when we talk about seeing young children, since most of them still have developing mouths with many baby teeth left. This is a good thing, though, and exactly why the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children have their first orthodontic evaluation by around the age of seven!
Having an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Jennings evaluate a child’s mouth at this stage means potential orthodontic issues can be diagnosed before they have the chance to develop into something more serious. It allows them to take a “watch and wait” approach, or look at age-appropriate treatment if necessary.
Our team has worked with many young patients in our community, and have seen the positive impact that preventive care can have on their oral health. If you have a young child around seven years old, we’d love to schedule a visit to meet you both and take a look at their dental development! During this initial appointment, Dr. Jennings will be checking for a number of issues to determine if orthodontic treatment is recommended at any point. To learn more about what she’ll be looking for, keep reading below!
Crowding and spacing issues
Orthodontists are trained to assess problems with excessive crowding or spacing of a child’s teeth when they’re fairly young. They’re also able to tell if any issues are likely to develop later on in life. Trouble with spacing 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 it’s crowding that’s an issue, it can often be corrected by expanding the arches or removing certain teeth.
Tooth loss and eruption
It’s not unusual for people to underestimate the importance of baby teeth. After all, they all fall out eventually, anyway! But these are the placeholders for our permanent teeth, and as such, where they’re located and when they come out matters more than you may think. Since they tend to fall out in a fairly specific order, any significant deviation from this pattern could signify a developmental issue that requires further attention.
By the age of seven, children should have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors. If your child has more or less than this, it could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, 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.
If a child’s teeth are crooked, it can make it difficult for them to brush and floss thoroughly. Crooked teeth are also more susceptible to uneven wear and tear. Misaligned teeth that are left untreated over a long enough period of time can eventually affect both the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue. Although we’re able to successfully align teeth at just about any age, correcting them when children are younger can help prevent some of that excessive wear and tear. Early treatment gives them a head start on a much healthier smile, as well.
Overbite (or protrusive front teeth)
Cosmetic concerns aside, front teeth that obviously protrude can increase the risk of injury to the permanent teeth and cause possible speech issues as well. Although we sometimes have to wait until a child’s mouth is done (or close to it) before permanently correcting an overbite, there are still several things we can do to help reduce the risk of traumatic injury. Often this will give children an extra boost of self-esteem, too!
Underbites can be caused by problems with either the teeth or jaws. The most difficult scenario involves the lower jaw growing too far forward. In these types of cases, we’ll often need to wait until the patient is close to being done growing to begin their treatment, usually during the teenage years.
Even if there’s a waiting period involved in resolving an underbite, early treatment is still important in order to avoid bite-shifting and damage to the front teeth. We have various methods we can use to try and normalize the bite as early as possible. This includes something called “jumping the bite,” where we use braces or other appliances to get a start on a young child’s underbite before completing treatment in their teen years. In fact, underbite patients who receive early treatment between the ages of 7-10 are much less likely to need jaw surgery when they get older!
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. When we’re able to expand the upper jaw in earlier childhood, we can reduce crowding and create space for the front teeth to come through uninterrupted. Expansion can also eliminate any shifting that may be present due to a constricted upper jaw.
In some cases, a narrow upper jaw can be associated with a narrow nasal passage, and expansion can help improve breathing and nasal airflow while these patients are growing.
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. In bites that are too deep, the top teeth completely cover the bottom ones when biting, which can indicate a small lower jaw.
In an open bite, the overall bite doesn’t overlap enough. This can indicate a finger, thumb, or tongue habit that is causing dental problems. If so, we’ll be happy to work with you and your child to eliminate any destructive habits early on. This will help their development to continue normally as they grow.
Start your child’s smile off on the right foot with Jennings Orthodontics
Early orthodontic evaluations are one of the easiest things you can do to help your child achieve a healthy smile that lasts a lifetime. When a child receives the orthodontic treatment they need when they need it, destructive bite patterns can be prevented from getting worse or damaging the developing teeth. In many cases, this will reduce the need for extensive orthodontic treatment as an adult. If further treatment is required at a later date, it often takes less time and is more efficient.
Jennings Orthodontics is proud to offer our younger patients a fun and stress-free in Louisville, Mt. Washington, and the surrounding communities. If your child is ready for their first orthodontic appointment, get in touch with us today. No dental referral is necessary to schedule a FREE consultation with Dr. Jennings!