Early Preventive Orthodontic Treatment for Children
What is the difference between early orthodontic treatment and regular orthodontic treatment, and why might my child need early treatment? How will early treatment benefit my child in the long run?
These are just a few of the questions surrounding the topic of early orthodontic treatment for children. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children see an orthodontist around age 7. For most children at this age, enough permanent teeth have come in and enough jaw growth has occurred that the orthodontist can identify current problems, anticipate future problems, and alleviate parents' concerns if all seems normal.
What are some things an early visit to the orthodontist can achieve?
- Influence jaw growth in a positive manner
- Preserve or gain space for erupting permanent teeth
- Reduce the chances of needing permanent teeth removed later
- Correct harmful oral habits (especially finger/thumb sucking)
- Reduce the occurrence of impacted teeth (stuck in the bone)
- Prevent the need for jaw surgery
- Improve esthetics and self-esteem
- Simplify and/or shorten treatment time for later orthodontics
What causes orthodontic problems?
Orthodontic problems such as crowding or spacing of the teeth, jaw growth problems, missing or impacted teeth, and malocclusions (bad bites) are often inherited. Problems can also arise due to early or late loss of baby teeth, injury to the teeth or jaw bones, or sucking habits (thumb/finger/pacifier) that persist past age 4.
What is Two-Phase treatment?
Many young patients greatly benefit from "Two-Phase" treatment. Just as the name implies, there are 2 distinct phases of treatment. Phase 1, or early/interceptive treatment, is limited orthodontics (expander, headgear, space maintainer, or partial braces/aligners) before all of the permanent teeth have erupted. Such treatment can occur between the ages of 6 and 11. This therapy is often recommended to make more space for developing teeth, correct crossbites, or eliminate harmful oral habits. Early treatment also can begin correcting bite problems so that jaw surgery or tooth extractions can be avoided and that later treatment is easier for the patient.
Phase 2 treatment is also called "comprehensive" treatment because it involves full braces when all of the permanent teeth have erupted, usually between the ages of 11 and 14. While some patients receive enough benefit from their Phase 1 therapy to forgo braces, most patients still require comprehensive treatment.
Do all children need early treatment?
Not all children require early preventive treatment, but the only way to know for sure is to visit an orthodontist for an evaluation. Some very complicated orthodontic problems can be more easily managed, and in some cases prevented, when addressed at the correct time.