Here at Parks, Schmit, and Fuller Orthodontics, we often hear from parents who want to know when they should schedule their child’s first orthodontic visit. We agree with the American Association of Orthodontists that children should be evaluated by an orthodontist by age 7, but this can be surprising news if you’ve always associated orthodontics with tweens or teens in braces! Many people believe that the primary goal of orthodontics is a straighter smile and wonder why a child who still has plenty of baby teeth left would need an evaluation. They’re going to fall out anyway, right? The truth is that our goal goes beyond the surface of a patient’s smile—beautifully aligned teeth are an excellent outcome, but the health of their bite is more important.
There are several reasons why this is the case. For one thing, teeth that are crooked or overcrowded can be more challenging to keep clean. This can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and even tooth loss. A misaligned bite can also lead to problems chewing or speaking correctly. Even if your child’s teeth look straight, there could still be an issue that needs monitoring as they grow. Experienced orthodontists like Drs. Parks, Schmit, Fuller, and Wittchow are trained to detect subtle issues with the bite and jaw. They’ll let you know if your child would benefit from treatment immediately or at some point in the future. Let’s explore some of the common problems they’ll be looking for during your child’s first visit with us!
Tooth loss and eruption
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of baby teeth, but as the placeholders for our permanent teeth, they matter more than you might think. Since they tend to fall out in a fairly specific order, any significant deviation from this pattern could signify there are developmental issues that may need attention. By age 7, children should also have at least four permanent molars and two to four permanent incisors. If there are more or less than these present, it could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, or extra teeth. Sometimes removing a primary tooth early or maintaining a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely can prevent bigger problems later on.
Crowding and spacing
By the time a child is ready for their first orthodontic evaluation, it will be possible to tell if they currently have or may develop excessive crowding or spacing issues. Spacing issues can arise over a tooth lost prematurely, one that never developed, teeth that are too small, or those spaced far apart. Crowding could require expanding the arches or removing teeth to improve the situation.
While we can align teeth at almost any age, doing so at a younger age can make for an easier and more effective treatment process. Crooked teeth are more susceptible to wear and tear, and over time, the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue can be compromised. Correcting crooked teeth at an earlier age can improve a child’s oral health and help them avoid the above issues.
Overbite or protruding front teeth
Teeth that obviously protrude are generally evident in early childhood. These are often seen as a cosmetic concern, but the effects of an overbite pattern go beyond the appearance of the teeth. Children may experience pain in the jaw, excessive tooth wear, and they can even have trouble with normal speech patterns.
We’ll usually need to wait until a child’s mouth has matured a bit before attempting to correct an overbite, but there are still a number of treatment options for reducing the risk of pain and traumatic injury as they grow. These corrective measures can also improve a child’s confidence in their smile!
When a child has an underbite, we need to determine whether the malocclusion is caused by problems with the eruption of the teeth or by the relationship of the jaws. As with an overbite, we’ll sometimes need to wait until the patient has finished growing to begin comprehensive treatment. However, earlier measures can be taken to help avoid damage to the front teeth and encourage skeletal correction. Underbite patients who receive treatment between the ages of about 7-10 tend to be less likely to need corrective jaw surgery when they are older.
Posterior crossbites can cause crowding and may also cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other. If necessary, we can expand the upper jaw from about 7-10 years of age to reduce crowding and create enough space for the eruption of the front teeth. It can also eliminate any shifting that may be present due to a constricted upper jaw.
Anterior open bites and deep bites
In an anterior open bite, the front teeth don’t overlap enough. This often results in poor function along with excessive wear on the back teeth. It can be caused by oral habits such as extended finger or thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, or if a child uses a bottle or pacifier for too long. In case of the latter, our team will work with both you and your child to help eliminate any destructive habits early on, allowing their dental development to continue normally.
Trust your child’s smile to Parks, Schmit, and Fuller Orthodontics
Early orthodontic evaluations are one of the easiest ways to ensure your child’s smile stays happy and healthy as they grow! Most children lose all their baby teeth by their early teens, and by the end of this period, the jaw bones will harden and stop growing. Any orthodontic procedures we perform past this point may take more time and involve tooth extraction or oral surgery.
In contrast, receiving early orthodontic treatment from an expert team like ours helps prevent the need for orthodontics as an adult, reducing the need for future extractions or surgery. Although some treatments will have to wait until all the permanent teeth are in, a preventive approach can make comprehensive treatment faster and more effective. Even if no treatment is indicated for your child at the time of their evaluation, you’ll still have peace of mind knowing our experienced doctors are monitoring their orthodontic development as they grow!
Our practice is proud to provide a positive and stress-free orthodontic experience to patients of all ages. We also offer a range of orthodontic services for the entire family! If your child is ready for their first orthodontic evaluation, get in touch with us today to schedule a complimentary consultation in Cedar Rapids or Marion.