Although any age is a great age to begin orthodontic treatment, receiving orthodontic care early in life can be advantageous for several reasons. Here are things every parent should understand about getting treatment for their child.
It’s not just for aesthetics. While braces and other orthodontic treatments do improve the appearance of teeth, their primary goal is to improve dental function. The No. 1 reason kids and adults need orthodontic care is to correct a “bad bite” (known as malocclusion). Treatment isn’t just about making teeth look nice – it helps patients chew more easily and speak more clearly. It also sets the stage for long-term health of the teeth, gums, and surrounding bone.
It’s important not to self-diagnose. It’s true that not every child will need braces – some kids reach their teenage years without a significant malocclusion. However, only a trained orthodontist can determine whether your child needs treatment. On top of dental school, orthodontists receive an additional 2-3 years of full-time specialty training that prepares them to develop the best personalized treatment for a patient’s unique issues.
Ideally, the first visit should be around age 7. This is because 7 is the age when a child’s permanent teeth start coming in, and jaw misalignment and tooth crowding first become apparent. A visit around this age can give the orthodontist a “clear window” into what’s already happening – and likely what will happen – in the mouth, helping him or her develop, 1) the most effective course of treatment and, 2) the best time-frame for that treatment.
Early intervention prevents future problems. Crowded, crooked teeth are far more difficult to clean, creating a higher risk of developing cavities and inflamed gums caused by gum disease. Orthodontic care early in life can also prevent more severe issues that can lead to needing teeth pulled or surgical correction later in life.
Expert Advice: Early Treatment
“It’s much easier for orthodontists to address malocclusions, or bad bites, as they are developing – usually when a child is in elementary or middle school. The earlier I see a patient, the greater the chance of identifying and addressing the root cause of the malocclusion, and hopefully avoiding extractions and extensive treatments. Unfortunately, an abnormally functioning bite can, over time, lead to the breakdown of the jaw joints, the tooth enamel, and/or the gum and bone support.”