Many people tend to associate the term “orthodontics” with teens in metal braces. That’s why it can be surprising to learn that the American Association of Orthodontists recommends children have their first orthodontic evaluation around the age of 7 or so. That can seem really young, especially since most kids still have baby teeth and developing mouths at this age. But as it turns out, that’s actually the point!
An initial exam by an experienced orthodontist can catch potential orthodontic issues early on before they have a chance to become bigger problems. This helps to prevent any negative impact on their future permanent teeth and bites. Here at McGrory Orthodontics, we’re big believers in the power of preventive care! Because we treat a number of young patients here, we’ve been able to observe firsthand how starting treatment at the right time can make a positive difference to a child’s overall oral health.
If your child is ready for their first orthodontic appointment, we would love to meet you both! We can take a look at their teeth and check for a number of issues to determine if orthodontic treatment is (or is likely to be) indicated. Keep reading below to learn more about what we’ll be looking for!
Tooth loss and eruption
Even though baby teeth fall out, they’re still important as placeholders for permanent teeth. For this reason, where they’re located and when a child loses them matters more than you might think. Primary teeth tend to fall out in a fairly specific order, so if there’s any significant deviation from this pattern, it could signify a developmental issue that needs attention.
By the age of seven, children will generally 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.
Crowding and spacing
Experienced orthodontists like Dr. McGrory and Dr. McCarty are often able to tell early on in your child’s life if they’re already experiencing problems with excessive crowding or spacing of their teeth. They’ll also be able to tell if he or she is likely to develop such problems later on. Spacing issues 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 crowding turns out to be an issue, it can often be corrected by expanding the arches or removing certain teeth.
Crooked teeth go beyond aesthetics. They are more susceptible to uneven damage and wear, and over a long enough period of time, this can compromise the surrounding gum tissue, affecting its shape and position. Even though teeth can be successfully aligned at almost any age, correcting crooked teeth at an earlier age can help prevent some of that excessive wear and tear. This gives your child the best start for a healthy smile.
Overbite (or protrusive front teeth)
Aside from cosmetic concerns, front teeth that obviously protrude can cause pain in the jaw and possibly interfere with the speech as well. Although we can’t always permanently correct an overbite until your child’s mouth has finished growing, there are still several things we can do to help reduce the risk of pain and traumatic injury. Doing so also tends to make things easier for a child psychosocially.
Underbites can be caused by problems with either the teeth or jaws. The most difficult scenario involves the lower jaw growing too far forward, and when we have a case like that, we’ll typically need to wait until the patient has finished growing to begin their treatment. This is usually around the age of 16 or so. But even if there’s a waiting period involved, early treatment is still important in order to avoid bite-shifting and damage to the front teeth. There are various methods we can use to try and normalize the bite as early as possible, including “jumping the bite,” which uses braces or other appliances to get a start on a young child’s underbite before completing treatment in their teen years. Underbite patients who receive early treatment between the ages of 7-10 are less likely to need jaw surgery when they get older.
Posterior crossbites can not only cause crowding but may also cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other. Expanding the upper jaw in earlier childhood allows us to 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.
Anterior open bites and deep bites
These bite problems occur vertically, and we can usually spot them 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 may be a sign that there is a finger, thumb, or tongue habit causing dental problems. If this is a problem, our team will be happy to work with you and your child to eliminate destructive habits early on. This will allow development to continue normally.
Earlier evaluations lead to healthier smiles with McGrory Orthodontics
Early orthodontic evaluations are an important part of giving your child a healthy smile that will last a lifetime. As a child grows, the jaw bones begin to harden and will eventually stop growing. Any orthodontic procedures that are carried out after this point can take more time and be more invasive. This includes treatments such as tooth extraction or oral surgery. Receiving orthodontic treatment as a child can help prevent the need for orthodontics as an adult, and interceptive treatment like early evaluations can make comprehensive orthodontic treatment faster and more efficient!
At McGrory Orthodontics, your child’s smile is our top priority! Our team is committed to providing quality orthodontic care for patients of all ages in a friendly, stress-free environment. If you’re in Pearland, Bellaire, or the surrounding communities and want to schedule your child’s first free orthodontic appointment with us, get in touch today. We’re happy to help you!