When should your child get braces? Although individual problems determine the ideal time to start orthodontic treatment, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that every child see an orthodontist by age 7. Many orthodontic problems are easier to correct if treated early rather than when jaw growth has slowed. The majority of 7-year-olds have a limited number of permanent front teeth as well as all four permanent first (six-year) molars.
An orthodontist can generally determine whether or not there will be adequate room for the remaining permanent teeth at this time. This determination is often aided by a panoramic X-ray. If the orthodontist determines that there will not be adequate room for the permanent teeth, early treatment can be initiated and may consist of appliances to expand the jaws or the early removal of deciduous teeth. This approach greatly increases the chance that the remaining permanent teeth erupt ideally aligned, thereby reducing the need for future orthodontic treatment or tooth extractions.
In addition to treating dental crowding early, many orthodontists will also advise treating certain bite problems (malocclusions) early as well. One of the most important bite problems to correct early is a crossbite. A crossbite occurs when the upper teeth fit inside or behind the lower teeth. When left untreated, crossbites may lead to permanent deformation of the lower jaw as well as severe wear of permanent teeth and may require future oral surgery to correct. Treatment may be as simple as an upper retainer or may involve appliances to expand the palate and stimulate forward growth of the upper jaw.
Another commonly treated orthodontic problem is an overbite (more correctly termed overjet) or "buck teeth." An overbite may result when the upper jaw grows more rapidly than the lower jaw or may simply result from protrusive front teeth. If the jaw is involved, treatment will usually consist of an orthopedic appliance to help stimulate lower jaw growth. In addition, limited upper braces are often placed on the front teeth. The advantages of treating the overbite early include improved chewing function, speech, facial esthetics, increased self-esteem and reduced risk of dental injuries.
Finally, orthodontists generally recommend treating harmful habits such as thumb sucking, tongue thrusting and mouth breathing at a young age. There is strong evidence that these habits can lead to significant orthodontic problems.
Please be aware that, while it is recommended for your child to see an orthodontist by age 7, the majority of patients seen at that age do not require treatment. They will generally be monitored during annual dental exams by the orthodontist, enabling treatment to begin at the optimal time.
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