When should a child see an orthodontist? The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends children have their first orthodontic evaluation no later than age 7. This doesn’t mean your child will come in for this first visit and then leave Smile Experience Orthodontics in braces. Instead, it’s a baseline exam that gives my team and I valuable information about your child’s developing smile. Though 7 years old may seem really young, there are a number of important reasons behind the recommendation, which I’ll be covering in this post.
Why Age 7?
1. Most kids have their first permanent molars, giving us clues about their bite.
When it comes to the age to see an orthodontist, 7 isn’t an arbitrary number. At this stage, most children have their first permanent molars. These teeth, which don’t replace baby teeth but erupt into empty space, help establish the back of the bite.
This gives orthodontists the framework to evaluate the relationship between the upper and lower arches. However, since kids still have many of their primary teeth, or baby teeth, it’s not too late to guide the eruption of the permanent teeth if needed.
As a board-certified orthodontist who offers kids’ orthodontics in Wayne and Oak Ridge, I’m trained in the development of the teeth and jaws. While a child’s teeth might look fairly straight at age 7, I can detect if they have a subtle problem that could have a big impact on their smile as they get older. Alternatively, I may find that something a parent is concerned about will actually correct itself as the teeth erupt.
2. An orthodontist can see what’s going on beneath your child’s gumline.
One of the reasons it can seem like kids start orthodontic treatment younger than they did in the past is because of how far diagnostic technology has progressed. Not all that long ago, orthodontists waited until all of a patient’s permanent teeth were in, around age 12 or 13, to diagnose and treat malocclusion (bad bite).
Now, we can use technology like digital x-rays and CBCT imaging to get a much clearer picture of what’s going on below the surface of your child’s smile. I can diagnose problems like missing, impacted or extra teeth, for example. Then, I can take a proactive approach and intervene earlier or keep an eye on things and jump in before a problem develops.
3. Having a baseline lets us pinpoint the best age for braces or Invisalign Teen down the road.
The vast majority of kids won’t need early interceptive orthodontic treatment, also called phase 1 orthodontic treatment. I’ll recommend that they come in for periodic check-ups so I can continue to keep an eye on their growth and development over the years. These visits are complimentary and similar to visiting your pediatrician for a yearly well visit.
Every child’s smile is unique and while many kids will start treatment once their permanent teeth are in, others may need treatment a bit earlier or later. Having the baseline exam at age 7 and subsequent check-ups, lets me determine the ideal age for your child to start treatment based on their individual needs and development. Beginning braces or Invisalign treatment at the right stage will bring about the most stable results.
4. We can diagnose and intercept certain emerging issues before they become more serious problems.
As I mentioned, improvements in diagnostic technology let us take a more proactive approach. We can accurately diagnose emerging issues, such as an underbite, overbite, excessive crowding or a posterior crossbite, much earlier.
While some problems, especially those that are related to the position of the teeth, respond well to treatment at any age, others are best treated while a patient is still growing. In fact, for bite problems that are skeletal in nature (i.e., related to the size or position of the jaw), once a child is done growing, we may not be able to achieve the same results.
Whether phase 1 orthodontic treatment is necessary or not really depends on the individual case. Things like a severe underbite often require early intervention. During phase 1, I use an orthodontic appliance to guide jaw growth and correct the underbite. Then, after a resting period, phase 2 treatment starts, which is where I straighten your child’s teeth with braces or Invisalign Teen.
Sometimes, we spot emerging crowding and see that certain teeth will erupt at the wrong angle or even not at all. This can be due to the size of the jaw or because a baby tooth was lost prematurely from injury or decay and the other teeth shifted into the space.
Determining this at an early orthodontic assessment would give me the opportunity to use appliances to hold or regain space or expand the jaw. Then, when it is time for your kiddo’s permanent teeth to erupt, they will have room, making treatment in their teen years easier and more effective.
Another instance where early intervention can be beneficial to your child’s dental development and overall well-being is if an issue with jaw growth is causing sleep disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea, or other airway issues. Guiding jaw growth in childhood may open the airway and improve sleep apnea.
Regardless of the reason, when a child does need early interceptive orthodontic treatment, it can help you avoid more costly, extensive treatment when they’re older. In some cases, it will also help your child avoid the need for corrective jaw surgery or extractions. This, in turn, will save you time and money.
5. Early visits let the orthodontist identify and correct harmful oral habits.
If your child engages in oral or myofunctional habits like finger and thumb sucking, mouth breathing, tongue thrust, prolonged pacifier use or teeth grinding, the first orthodontist’s visit is an excellent opportunity to bring it up.
Aggressive finger or thumb sucking that continues past the toddler years is tied to a narrowing of the palate and issues like a crossbite. Tongue thrust is associated with an open bite, while mouth breathing can also interfere with skeletal development.
As an orthodontist, I’m able to offer guidance on these types of habits before they cause irreversible damage. I can talk with you about different behavioral techniques. If these don’t work, we can also explore habit-breaking appliances, which physically block the behavior.
6. Kids get used to going to the orthodontist
When kids start going to the orthodontist at age 7, they develop a rapport with the doctor and team. They get used to the office and know what to expect. While feeling comfortable at the orthodontist’s office is important for any child, this can be extremely beneficial for kids with dental anxiety or anxiety in new situations. Once your child actually needs treatment, they’ll be a pro and any jitters will be long gone.
Problems the Orthodontist Looks for in Children
Some of the things I keep an eye out for include:
- Crowded teeth
- An underbite (lower jaw sits in front of the upper jaw)
- Crossbites (some of the upper teeth are inside of the lower teeth)
- Excessive overbite, or deep bite (the degree of overlap between the top teeth and bottom teeth is significant)
- Overjet teeth (the top teeth jut out in front of the bottom teeth putting them at risk of injury)
- Open bite (the top and bottom teeth don’t meet at all)
- Late permanent teeth
- Early loss of primary teeth
- Oral habits, including thumb sucking, pacifier use, mouth breathing, tongue thrust and teeth grinding
Not all of these problems will require early treatment and, for many, I’d take a wait-and-see approach. But, if you see signs of an orthodontic issue, it’s a good idea to schedule an orthodontic evaluation for your child.
What Happens at a Child’s First Orthodontist Visit?
When your child comes for their first visit at Smile Experience Orthodontics in Wayne or Oak Ridge, NJ, they’ll receive a warm welcome from our friendly team. We’ll give you a quick tour of the office and then you’ll head back to the consultation room.
Once your child is comfortable, a team member will take digital photos and x-rays. We’ll also take a digital scan of their teeth, if needed, to give us a 3D replica of their bite. I’ll look at your child’s diagnostic records and then perform an exam. This will let me develop an accurate diagnosis, if there is one. I’ll chat with you about any findings, use images to walk you through any diagnosis or treatment needs, and answer any and all questions you may have.
It’s rare that your child would need treatment immediately, so we’ll usually schedule you for another growth and development check-up in six months to a year. If your child does need phase 1 orthodontic treatment in the near future, I’ll go through it in detail. Our treatment coordinator will wrap up the visit by talking with you about the cost of phase 1 orthodontic treatment, your insurance benefits and our payment plan options.
Connect with a Kids’ Orthodontist in Wayne, NJIf you have concerns about your child’s teeth or bite or your child is 7 years old, schedule a kids’ orthodontic assessment at Smile Experience Orthodontics in Wayne or Oak Ridge, NJ. At our bright, friendly office, my team and I strive to make visits fun, educational and positive.