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Early Orthodontic Treatment: When is it Necessary?

Most dental offices like to see children from a very early age so they can keep a close eye on the development of their teeth and jaws. Sometimes a young child will benefit from an early orthodontic assessment that can be carried out as soon as age six or seven when a child still has some baby teeth and some adult teeth. Although this may seem very soon, an orthodontist can already tell if their teeth and jaws will develop without problems or if they may need treatment.

Planning an Early Orthodontic Treatments

Orthodontic treatment may be planned in two stages, with early treatment taking place while a child is still young, followed by treatment later on when they are in their early teens.

First Stage

The aim of treatment at this stage is to:

  • manage any developing problems and preferably eliminate them
  • guiding the growth of a child’s jawbones and facial bones
  • help create enough space for their adult teeth to erupt properly

Second Stage

Later, a second round of treatment may be needed when a child has all their permanent teeth, but this will more likely be:

  • cosmetically oriented
  • concentrating on moving their teeth into optimal positions
  • create a more aesthetically pleasing smile

Even if treatment isn’t needed immediately, planning allows an orthodontist to make the best use of future growth spurts to provide an optimal outcome. Other times, an orthodontist may decide that baby teeth need to be removed to create the proper space in the jaw, enabling permanent teeth to erupt more easily. Likewise, when tooth extractions are needed, these are carefully timed to take advantage of a child’s growth and development.

When Would a Child Need Early Treatment?

Sometimes a child will benefit from early treatment, for example, if they have a thumb sucking habit or prefer to breathe through their mouth, as this can affect the growth and development of their teeth and jaws. For example, a child that sucks their thumb may pull their upper jaw outward, so it becomes narrower and more elongated than is desirable, leaving less room for adult teeth to erupt without problems.

A dentist can provide an appliance that helps guide the growth of their jaws, gradually widening the upper arch in creating enough room for the adult teeth to erupt normally. The device, called a palatal expander, is gradually widened, expanding the upper palate and creating a broader, more attractive smile. It consists of an acrylic plate that fits into the upper palate and has two halves joined by a screw. The screw is slowly adjusted, widening the space between the two halves of the palatal expander so that the palate is forced to expand. Treatment might sound dramatic, but the palatal expander is widened very gradually. A child’s jaw bones are still developing at this stage, so they are softer and more easily molded.

What Are the Advantages of Early Treatment and Childhood Orthodontics in General?

Early orthodontic treatment can help a child speak more clearly, ensure they can chew food properly, and breathe and swallow correctly. Learning how to speak is especially important for children to communicate with others and to develop social skills. However, it can be tricky to speak properly when teeth and jaws are misaligned, and this can cause difficulties with speech such as lisping or slurring.

Guiding the development of your child’s teeth

Correcting the alignment of a child’s teeth and jaws is the most effective way to ensure they learn to speak clearly right from the start and don’t develop habits that could be hard to break later. In addition, by taking advantage of growth spurts, an orthodontist can guide the development of your child’s teeth and jaws more successfully, potentially avoiding the need for tooth extractions in preparation for orthodontics when they are older.

Sometimes early orthodontic treatment can prevent the need to wear braces during a child’s adolescence and teens. If braces are required, treatment will most likely be shorter and is planned once your child has all their adult teeth. Another advantage is that we can help create a better facial profile by ensuring your child’s facial bones and jaws develop optimally.

Self-confidence and self-esteem

This, in turn, can help improve a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem as they grow up. Otherwise, sometimes having crooked teeth can make a child less than willing to smile. Having early orthodontic treatment and wearing braces can allow them to regain their confidence.

Clean teeth properly

Yet another important reason for having orthodontic treatment is to make sure your child can clean their teeth properly. Misaligned and crooked teeth or teeth that are overcrowded can be tricky to clean thoroughly, and the hard-to-reach areas are at risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

Bruxism

Misaligned teeth can cause a nocturnal habit called bruxism, where children and adults will clench and grind their teeth during sleep. Because it’s nocturnal, your child may be unaware they have this habit, but it can cause unpleasant side-effects like:

  • headaches
  • facial pain
  • neck pain
  • damage to teeth

Correcting the position of your child’s jaws and teeth can help relieve these uncomfortable symptoms.

Are There Any Disadvantages to Early Orthodontic Treatment?

Early orthodontic treatment often only brings about positive changes, but it is important to consider whether a child is emotionally ready for treatment.

If you have a child who is quite young for their age, your orthodontist may want to discuss whether they are ready for orthodontics or if it may be preferable to wait until they are older. Sometimes when a child does start early orthodontic treatment and consequently requires further treatment during adolescence, it can be tricky for them to stick to a program as they may have been undergoing orthodontic treatment for years.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the results of early orthodontic treatment may not necessarily be maintained, lengthening the amount of treatment needed.

If your child has been recommended to have an early orthodontic evaluation, it’s important to carefully discuss all the pros and cons of treatment with their orthodontist. A good orthodontist, such as Dr. Gibbs will not mind answering all your questions and can take you through any proposed treatment plan, explaining it thoroughly so you can make an informed choice for your child.

 

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