Updated on February 7, 2024
6 min read

Early Orthodontic Treatment: Pros, Cons, Candidacy & Treatment Options

NewMouth is reader supported. We may earn a commission if you purchase something using one of our links. Advertising Disclosure.

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.

What Is Early Orthodontic Treatment?

“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.  

Early Orthodontic Treatment Pros and Cons

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.

Pros

Pros of early treatment include:

  • Can address skeletal issues in the jaw and correct bite alignment before the permanent teeth grow in
  • May reduce the complexity of or prevent the need for second-phase orthodontic treatment at a later age
  • Provides your child with the foundations of a healthy, beautiful smile
  • Occurs while your child’s skeletal growth is still active, making some conditions easier to treat
  • Can help prevent the need for extraction of adult teeth
  • Treats facial asymmetry that may become permanent if not corrected before puberty

Cons

Cons of early orthodontic treatment include:

  • There is no way to guarantee a second phase won’t be needed when the child is older
  • Kids will require parental supervision to ensure good oral hygiene with braces and other orthodontic appliances
  • Compliance with the proper use of appliances can be a challenge for children

What Orthodontic Conditions May Require Early Treatment?

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:

  • Tooth crowding — Severe dental crowding can cause some or all teeth to overlap
  • Severely gapped teeth — Gaps can form between any two teeth in the mouth, the most common being the two upper front teeth (midline diastema)
  • UnderbitesA class III malocclusion happens when the lower jaw is too far forward, causing the lower front teeth to protrude beyond the upper front teeth
  • Crossbites This is when the lower teeth overlap the upper teeth rather than vice versa. 
  • Other discrepancies ⁠— Includes extra or missing teeth and jaw or teeth issues resulting from thumb-sucking or long-term pacifier use.

Common Types of Early Orthodontic Treatment

Four common types of early orthodontic treatment include:

Tongue Crib Appliance

3D render of a tongue crib applicance

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.

Palatal Expanders

Temporary used orthodontic appliance to make young upper jaw wider

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.

Traditional Braces

Traditional braces are the most popular orthodontic treatment to correct misaligned teeth, crooked teeth, and other bite problems.

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.

3D render of teeth with metal braces in gums

Headgear

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. 

Reverse Pull Headgear

Common types of headgear include:

  • Cervical Pull Headgear treats overbites and underbites
  • Reverse-Pull Headgear treats underbites and crossbites 
  • High Pull Headgear treats open bites

Clear Aligners

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.

gloved hand putting clear aligners on patients teeth

Common Questions on Early Orthodontic Treatment

How early is too early for braces?

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.

How long does orthodontic treatment take?

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.

Is it necessary to remove teeth before braces?

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.

What is the best age for orthodontic treatment?

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.

Summary

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.

Last updated on February 7, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 7, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Prabhakar et al. “Prevalence of Malocclusion and Need for Early Orthodontic Treatment in Children.” Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, 2014.
  2. Shalish et al. “Prevalence of dental features that indicate a need for early orthodontic treatment.” European Journal of Orthodontics, 2013.
  3. Schneider-Moser, U.E.M., and Moser, L. “Very early orthodontic treatment: when, why and how?” Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics, 2022.
  4. Philip, K. “Interceptive Orthodontics — Why? When? Where?” Journal of Clinical Dentistry, 2011. 
  5. Almasoud, N.N. “Extraction of primary canines for interceptive orthodontic treatment of palatally displaced permanent canines: A systematic review.” The Angle Orthodontist, 2017.
  6. Seehra et al. “Interceptive orthodontic treatment in bullied adolescents and its impact on self-esteem and oral-health-related quality of life.” European Journal of Orthodontics, 2012.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram