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When it comes to orthodontic problems with their child’s teeth, many parents wonder how young is too young to start treatment. The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends scheduling your child’s first orthodontic evaluation by age 7.1
While this may seem young, many orthodontic problems are easier to treat at an early age. Additionally, early intervention may be necessary to create space for a child’s adult teeth to come in. However, not every early orthodontic evaluation results in treatment.
This article explains the pros and cons of early orthodontic treatment and the conditions it may benefit. Talk to your child’s orthodontist about whether early treatment is right for them.
“Early” or “interceptive” orthodontic treatment refers to an orthodontic intervention that occurs while a child still has some baby teeth. It’s typically the first stage of two phases of orthodontic treatment.
Most young patients begin orthodontic treatment around age 14. All of a child’s permanent teeth have fully erupted by this age.
Interceptive orthodontic treatment occurs during the mixed dentition phase when some baby and permanent teeth are in a child’s mouth. This treatment aims to prevent orthodontic issues that may worsen if left untreated.
While early orthodontic intervention can help prevent future issues and improve your child’s smile, it also has disadvantages. Consult an orthodontist to determine if early treatment is right for your child.
Scheduling an orthodontic evaluation is the best way to prevent issues with your child’s oral and dental development.
Certain conditions that affect a child’s bite or teeth may indicate the need for early interceptive treatment. These include:
Four common types of early orthodontic treatment include:
Many orthodontic issues arise from poor habits in early childhood, such as thumb sucking and prolonged pacifier use. These behaviors lead to tongue thrusting, which is a common cause of teeth misalignment.
A tongue crib is an orthodontic device that prevents children from sucking on their fingers or thumbs. Using a tongue crib may help your child avoid a potentially severe malocclusion, such as an open bite.
The most common reason children receive orthodontic treatment while they still have some of their primary teeth is due to abnormal jaw formation. If your child’s jaw isn’t wide enough for the permanent teeth to grow, they may need a palatal expander.
Expanders create more space in the mouth by widening the upper jaw over time. A wider jaw allows for more effective and quicker orthodontic treatment, such as clear aligners or braces.
Impacted teeth, crossbites, dental crowding, and breathing problems are common indicators of a palatal expander.
Children and teens between 10 and 14 most commonly get braces. Children younger than 10 might need braces if they have severely crowded teeth, an underbite, gapped teeth, missing teeth, or other issues.
Headgear may be necessary if your child’s jaw and teeth are severely misaligned. The appliance is attached to their head or face with a neck strap and is used in combination with braces.
Braces only fix the positioning of the teeth, while headgear can influence proper jaw growth.
Common types of headgear include:
Clear aligners, also called invisible braces, have grown in popularity since the 90s. Adults prefer clear aligners over braces because they are removable, virtually invisible, and comfortable.
However, some younger children are also candidates for invisible braces. Invisalign offers aligners for children who still have some baby teeth.
Most patients begin orthodontic treatment around age 14. However, some may begin treatment as early as age 7. Starting orthodontic treatment earlier than age 6 or 7 is rare.
Orthodontic treatment duration depends on your age, the severity of teeth misalignment, and the type of treatment chosen.
Braces take anywhere between 12 and 24 months. Clear aligner treatment is faster and takes between 4 and 12 months, but this is because it can treat less severe bite issues.
It is not recommended to extract teeth before getting braces unless the jaw is too small or a tooth is smaller or larger than the other teeth.
The best age to get orthodontic treatment is between 10 and 14 years. However, some problems may be prevented or reduced by early intervention. Ask your child’s orthodontist what’s best for them.
Early or interceptive orthodontic treatment occurs while some baby teeth are still in a child’s mouth. Children should have an orthodontic evaluation no later than age 7 to determine if early treatment would be beneficial.
Addressing jaw and teeth misalignments early can help prevent more severe problems, including permanent changes to your child’s facial appearance.
However, early treatment doesn’t necessarily mean a child won’t need braces or other orthodontic interventions when they’re older.
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