While your child may be among the lucky few with a perfect smile, many children's teeth grow in crooked or with a gap in the middle. You may think waiting out the problem is a good idea; after all, they still have a lot of growing to do, but taking children to the orthodontist at a young age is becoming increasingly popular. It is not uncommon to see children as young as seven donning metal on their teeth. Is there really an advantage to orthodontic work at a young age or is it better to wait until the traditional teenage years?
Treat Them While They're Young
By the time a girl is 14 and a boy is 16, they have completed 90% of their skeletal growth. For this reason, it is much more difficult to correct any problems with jaw alignment or teeth in the teenage years than at a younger age. From the ages of 7 to 10 years old, a child's body is developing rapidly. Orthodontists are able to correct skeletal problems and jaw alignments by taking advantage of growing bones and influencing skeletal structure. Treatment at this optimal age has been dubbed 'phase one' of orthodontic work.
How Early Intervention Can Help
Moving a child's teeth through bone that is growing can decrease treatment time and help correct and prepare for the placement of permanent teeth. The orthodontist can address a problem that may be minor now but has the potential to grow into a more serious issue as the child gets older. Correcting a child's teeth early may also mean that they do not need to have braces or other orthodontic procedures in the future.
Common problems that are addressed during phase one treatment include:
- Excess Overbite
- Extra Teeth
- Midline Discrepancy
- Open Bites
- Spacing for Missing Teeth
The type of technique an orthodontist uses will vary with the problem. Braces are common, even at this age, to move the teeth in the desired direction. Retainers may also be used, but they are more limited in the amount of movement they can provide. Retainers are used mainly for tipping and rotating the teeth but they cannot move tooth roots.
When You Should Wait Until They Are Older
Although early intervention can be beneficial, there are some conditions that have been shown to be better treated when the child is older. Crooked teeth and overjets are among the problems that are better handled at an older age. Crooked teeth have more to do with the way new teeth grow in than their placement. They are simple to correct, but it is better to wait until all the teeth have grown in to effectively straighten the permanent teeth.
Similarly, if your child has overjet, a condition in which the teeth stick out, you may want to hold off on treatment. Using phase one treatment to correct an overjet may not permanently fix the problem and your child will likely need additional treatment when they are teenagers. This may end up costing you more money and time when two years of procedures become four.
If you are unsure about orthodontic work for your child, see your family orthodontist for a consultation. They can tell you whether your child's particular problem is best handled now with phase one orthodontics or in the future when more permanent teeth have come in. Remember, orthodontic work is about more than just getting a pretty smile. Properly aligned teeth will help your child chew and speak more properly and prevent teeth and jaw problems in the future.