Orthodontic treatments for preteens are incredibly common. In fact, some consider it a “coming of age” event. However, many parents are surprised that children as young as seven can benefit from orthodontic treatment.
In this article, we uncover the surprising truth behind early orthodontics, the importance of orthodontic treatments, and why you shouldn’t be concerned if treatment is recommended for your young child.
What is orthodontic treatment?
Before we get into why early orthodontic treatment is nothing to be concerned about it’s important to understand why orthodontics are crucial to oral and overall health.
For most people the first thing that comes to mind when they hear orthodontics is braces. While braces are a major component of orthodontics, there are other treatments available. The main purpose behind any orthodontic treatment is to correct bite or jaw issues. Problems such as a crossbite, an underbite, crowding of teeth, protrusion, or other forms of teeth misalignment can be corrected with orthodontic treatment.
Why orthodontic treatment is important
Orthodontic treatment is important for many reasons. Two of the biggest reasons someone may need orthodontic treatment are to properly chew and speak. Other reasons to correct misaligned teeth include the inability to clean teeth correctly, the wearing down of enamel, and creating a more attractive smile.
Without treatment, a misaligned bite can lead to many problems including:
- Jaw shifting
- Stress on jaw joints
- Swallowing problems
- Speech problems
- Gum disease
- Higher risk for cavities
- Inability to close the mouth and lips properly
Forgoing orthodontic treatment can have a negative impact on both your oral and overall health and self-confidence.
What to expect during orthodontic treatment
Unlike other oral health treatments, like getting a cavity filled, an orthodontic treatment generally takes months or even years to complete. This is because it is correcting and adjusting the facial and jaw bones as well as soft tissues in the skull.
Types of orthodontic treatments
Braces may be the common orthodontic treatment people think of, however, there are many different types of correctors available.
Braces: Braces are made of stainless-steel brackets that are cemented to your teeth and wires. The wires are threaded through brackets and deliver a constant force that gently moves the teeth over time.
Clear aligners: Clear aligners are made of thin, plastic trays that fit over a patient’s teeth. The patient must remember to put in and remove the aligner each day. Every couple of weeks a new aligner is used to move the teeth slowly to the correct position.
Elastics: Elastics are tiny rubber bands that can accompany braces to put extra force on a tooth or teeth. The elastics help move the teeth into their ideal position. Any use of elastics should be prescribed by an orthodontist.
Retainers: Retainers are generally used after orthodontic treatment is complete. The purpose of a retainer, whether it’s removable or permanent, is to keep teeth in place. This is especially important in the first six months after treatment.
Early orthodontic treatment
Now that we have covered the importance of orthodontic treatment, it’s time to dive into the surprising truth behind early orthodontics.
Young children and orthodontic treatments
The most common age to have braces put on is around 11 or 12 years old. However, it’s not unusual to have children as young as seven receive orthodontic treatment if needed.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children see an orthodontist for a checkup by the age of seven. It’s important to note that this does not mean your child will receive any treatment at that time. Instead, the orthodontist can evaluate how the bite and jaw are developing and advise parents whether treatment will be needed in the future. The age at which your child will most benefit from any orthodontic treatment will be determined by their orthodontist.
Your child’s orthodontist will consider many factors before recommending treatment. Some of these factors may include:
- Whether an orthodontic problem was inherited. This means genetics influenced the orthodontic problem.
- Whether an orthodontic problem was acquired. This means the orthodontic problem was brought on by things such as pacifier use, thumb sucking, abnormal swallowing, accidents, etc…
- Child’s stage of dental development
- The severity of the orthodontic problem
After considering the factors above, your child’s orthodontist will be able to give you a comprehensive treatment plan and the best way to move forward.
Common concerns around early orthodontic treatments
It’s normal to be hesitant about early orthodontic treatments. Getting accurate information before the process begins can help relieve anxiety for both you and your child.
My child still has baby teeth. Should we wait for treatment?
Many parents are shocked to learn that waiting for permanent teeth to come in can make correcting orthodontic problems more difficult. It’s easier to correct problems when the bones in the face and jaw are still developing rather than waiting until they are done growing.
Will my child’s teeth correct themselves as they grow?
This is a common misconception. Unfortunately, once a misalignment in the teeth or jaw develops it will not self-correct with time. In some cases, the problem will worsen and become more difficult to correct as the facial and jaw bones harden.
Are braces the only option for my child?
Braces are often thought of as the only treatment option for orthodontic problems. However, there are many other tools that may be a better fit for your child’s needs. Removable “appliances” are sometimes used to move teeth, change the position of the jaw, or help teeth stay in place. Other times removing a baby tooth can help alleviate the problem and help adult teeth come in better.
Early orthodontic treatment makes correcting problems easier
Catching and treating orthodontic problems early will make it easier to correct them. Delaying or forgoing orthodontic treatment can make it harder to correct problems in the long run or may not be possible at a certain point.
If you are concerned about early orthodontic treatment, be sure to talk with your child’s orthodontist who can explain the process and address any questions you have.
No matter what age your child begins their orthodontic treatment, whether they are seven or 17, a healthy and functional smile is the goal.
To learn more about braces check out this blog.