Pediatric Orthodontic DentistAs a parent, you may think orthodontic treatment is only appropriate for older kids and as they progress into their teens. However, orthodontic care at a young age can provide multiple benefits for your youngster.

Orthodontics for young children will identify any potential teeth or jaw alignment problems, enabling early intervention as the mouth develops. Starting orthodontic care early is not just important for your child’s appearance and dental health: it can also improve their general wellbeing.

Pediatric orthodontic care can mean less treatment later. A pediatric dentist can guide your youngster’s teeth into the proper position, avoiding extractions in the future. Dealing with any problems before they become serious also has financial benefits for you – preventing lengthy and costly treatments further on down the road.

Straight teeth are also easier to clean for a child, and good oral hygiene at a young age is crucial to prevent issues such as cavities and gum infections, which can cause problems in other parts of the body.

Tooth decay affects one in five youngsters in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although children rarely get periodontitis (gum disease), they can develop gum inflammation (gingivitis).

Orthodontic Problems That Young Children Can Get

Interceptive orthodontic measures can set your youngster on the path to sound oral health in adulthood.

Orthodontic treatment at a young age helps to encourage healthy jaw growth and proper positioning of the teeth, avoiding or simplifying later procedures. Many orthodontic problems can be detected when a child is still young.

Teeth can be pushed out of proper alignment if young children develop unhealthy habits like tongue thrusting or thumb sucking. These and other orthodontic problems generally become apparent around the age of seven years, when the first permanent teeth have started to emerge.

Another orthodontic problem that may affect a young child is abnormal eruption – when a tooth emerges through the gum in the wrong place. If the tooth is prevented from growing in fully (impaction), minor surgery may be needed before orthodontic treatment can begin.

Other problems include crowding, when the teeth are too big or the jaws too small, and excessive spacing, which can be caused when one or more teeth don’t grow in or are lost through trauma or decay, resulting in nearby teeth moving out of position.

Early orthodontic treatment can also address problems with the bite function, such as crossbite, overbite or underbite.

Orthodontic treatment at a young age starts while the child’s jaw bones are still pliable – they don’t harden until the late teen years. This means corrective procedures work more quickly than for adolescents and adults.

Stages of Early Orthodontic Care

There are three main stages of orthodontic evaluation and treatment at an early age.

The first stage of orthodontic care starts when your child is two or three years old and continues until they’re about six. Key features of this stage are preventive care to discourage habits that can result in crooked teeth and monitoring how the teeth are developing.

Stage two begins when the first adult teeth start to appear around the age of six or seven. This will result in one of two positive outcomes. If all’s well, you and your child get the peace of mind of knowing their oral development is on course. If there are signs of potential problems, your pediatric dentist can begin to plan ahead.

Treatment for crooked teeth or bite issues usually won’t start until one to five years after the initial assessment., and this is the third stage of early orthodontic care: the correction of problems with the permanent teeth in adolescence.

Indications Pointing Towards Orthodontic Evaluation and Treatment at a Young Age

Signs that your youngster may need orthodontic care at an early age include:

  • Loss of primary teeth before the age of five years.
  • The teeth don’t come together correctly when biting.
  • Snoring and/or breathing through the mouth.
  • Crowded front teeth, usually noticeable when the child is seven or eight.
  • Protruding front teeth.
  • Biting or chewing difficulties.
  • Speech impediment.
  • Abnormal movement of the jaw when closing or opening the mouth.
  • Thumb or finger sucking after the age of five.

Your child’s dentist may prescribe a fixed or removable appliance to move teeth or alter the position of the jaw. Sometimes devices like braces aren’t necessary. Removal of some baby teeth may help the adult teeth to emerge in the right place.

Because orthodontic treatment at an early age takes place as a child's jaw is still developing, a device called a palatal expander may be used to address problems with a child's upper dental arch.

Finding the Right Dentist for Your Child’s Orthodontic Treatment

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) suggests an orthodontic examination for every child no later than the age of seven. The organization says pediatric orthodontic dentists can detect subtle issues in jaw development and emerging teeth when some baby teeth are still present. In some cases, early orthodontic treatment can achieve results that may be impossible once the mouth and jaw have fully developed.

Early orthodontic treatment means cleaner teeth, fewer procedures, and less expense for you. It also gives your child the best chance of a healthy, beaming smile, avoiding the self-conscious embarrassment of crooked teeth.