At What Age Should My Child See an Orthodontist?

Although orthodontics are for patients of every age, they tend to be most commonly associated with teenagers in braces — that old “braceface” stereotype is one that just won’t quit. We rarely consider young children when talking orthodontics, so it can be surprising to learn that the American Association of Orthodontists actually recommends a child have their first orthodontic evaluation by the age of 7. This may seem strange, since children this age normally still have baby teeth and a mouth that is still developing, but as it turns out, that’s the point!

Here at Shaw Orthodontics, we’re big believers in preventative orthodontic care. By having an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Shaw examine your young child, any potential issues can be caught early, before they become problematic. This can help prevent any negative impact on their future permanent teeth, and their developing jaws. We see many young patients, and being able to diagnose and treat issues before they have a chance to turn into something serious really does make a positive difference to their overall oral health as they grow.

There are several issues we’ll be on the lookout for during this evaluation, such as:

Tooth Loss and Eruption
The transition that happens as your child moves from baby to permanent teeth is an important one. The primary teeth are placeholders for the permanent ones, so Dr. Shaw will take note of where they’re located and when they fall out, as baby teeth normally fall out in a fairly predictable order. If we notice any significant deviation from this pattern, it signals to us that there could be developmental issues needing attention.  

By the age of 7, children will usually have at least four permanent molars, as well as two to four permanent incisors. If your child has more or less than this, there may eventually be problems with missing, crowding, or extra teeth. Sometimes removing a primary tooth early, or maintaining a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely, can help to prevent bigger issues later on down the line.

Crowding and Spacing

It’s possible for Dr. Shaw to tell fairly early on in your child’s life if they already have or will have problems with excessive crowding or spacing of their teeth. Spacing issues can show up when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or with teeth that are just too small or spaced apart. We can often treat crowding by expanding the arches or removing teeth.

We treat plenty of patients who are able to successfully align their teeth at an older age. However, since crooked teeth are more susceptible to damage and wear, leaving them untreated for years can affect the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue, compromising it. Correcting crooked teeth at an earlier age can also improve your child’s self-esteem, giving them a more positive self-image.

Overbite or Protrusive Front Teeth
There are some cosmetic concerns with front teeth that obviously protrude, but beyond that, they can also cause pain in the jaw, and even possible speech issues. We will sometimes need to wait until your child’s mouth is finished growing before attempting to permanently correct an overbite, but we can help reduce the severity of the problem in the meantime.

Underbites can be caused by either tooth or jaw problems, and in the most difficult cases, the lower jaw grows too far forward. As with overbites, we’ll typically need to wait until your child has finished growing to finish their treatment for an underbite, usually by around the time they’re sixteen. Although there’s a waiting period involved, early treatment remains incredibly important. To avoid issues like bite-shifting and damage to the front teeth, we’ll want to try and normalize the bite as much and as early as possible.

If we do notice an underbite in your young child, there’s a treatment option called “jumping the bite”, using braces or headgear. This allows us to get a handle on it before completing treatment in their teenage years. As an example of why early treatment is so imperative, patients who are treated for an underbite between the ages of about 7 and 10 are much less likely to need jaw surgery at an older age.

Posterior Crossbites
Posterior crossbites can cause crowding in your child’s mouth, and can also cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other. By catching this early, and having the option to expand the upper jaw between the ages of about 7-10, we can reduce crowding and create the kind of space necessary to allow the front teeth to erupt. Expansion can also eliminate any shifting that may be present due to a constricted upper jaw.

Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
These are basically vertical problems with the bite, and an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Shaw will be able to spot them by the time your child is around 7 years old. Bites that are too deep (where the top teeth completely cover the bottom ones when biting) can indicate a small lower jaw. Bites that don’t overlap enough (open bites) may be a sign that there is a finger, thumb, or tongue habit causing dental problems. If that’s the case, we’re happy to work with both you and your child to eliminate these kinds of destructive habits early on, allowing normal development to occur.

Early evaluations equal easier smiles

It’s clear that early orthodontic evaluations are an important part of giving your child the best chance for a healthy, straight smile, but don’t underestimate the benefits to you, as well. Delaying orthodontic evaluations until there’s an actual, noticeable problem can end up costing you more, and taking up more of your time.

Delaying an evaluation and missing out on early orthodontic treatment can also lead to more painful later treatment for your child. Most children lose all their baby teeth by the time they’re entering their teens, and by the end of those teen years, the jaw bones will harden and stop growing. Any orthodontic procedures performed after this point will generally be more intensive, and can sometimes involve things like tooth extraction or oral surgery. Receiving early orthodontic treatment as a child can help prevent the need for orthodontics as an adult, reducing the need for extractions or surgery in the future.

Even though some treatments will require all the permanent teeth being erupted before proceeding, interceptive treatment like these early orthodontic evaluations can make comprehensive treatment for your child faster and better.

Early orthodontic evaluations in Rockwall

Early evaluations are important, and it’s equally important to choose an orthodontist who is highly trained, experienced, and up to date on the latest techniques and trends in orthodontics. Dr. Shaw is unique in his exposure to topics like cosmetic dentistry and the micro-esthetics of the soft and hard tissue of the face. Because of his familiarity with these, Dr. Shaw believes that every patient deserves to have a smile that is designed for their own individual case, taking into account their specific tooth shape, the movement of their lips, and shape of their face. This type of individualized approach, along with the compilation of all of the aspects of dentistry that play a role, has been termed “smile design,” something Dr. Shaw excels at!

Our team here is composed of caring, committed, and knowledgeable certified dental assistants, who work hard to create a comfortable and stress-free experience for both you and your child. If you’re in Rockwall or the surrounding area, and have a child who is nearing 7 years old, get in touch with our team today to schedule a consultation with us. We’re here to give your child the best chance at finding their very best smile!