Most parents and caregivers know that regular check-ups with a dentist are an important part of maintaining a child’s healthy smile. But did you know that early orthodontic evaluations have a role to play in this, too? In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children have an initial evaluation with an orthodontist by around the age of 7. This can be confusing for some parents, since most kids that age have developing mouths with several baby teeth left. But an evaluation doesn’t automatically equal treatment! Here at Laidlaw Orthodontics, we end up recommending immediate orthodontic treatment in just a fraction of the young patients we see, but it’s still worth knowing all the reasons why your child should see an orthodontist by age 7!
These early orthodontic visits are valuable because they give us the opportunity to diagnose orthodontic issues, whether they are present or developing. By age 7, most children will have their permanent front teeth in place, as well as the first set of adult molars. These dental “landmarks” mean an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Laidlaw will be able to identify how a child’s bite is likely to develop over the following years. We’re also able to use panoramic x-rays to give us a better look into a child’s mouth—this will help us identify any missing adult teeth or deviations from normal tooth eruption, which could signify the need for expert treatment.
What happens during a child’s orthodontic consultation?
During your child’s evaluation, Dr. Laidlow will want to assess their smile and see if there are any issues present that would warrant treatment, whether now or in the future. This gives us a chance to correct these problems before they have the chance to develop into something more serious. She’ll be looking for evidence of any common orthodontic issues, including those listed below.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of baby teeth. They all fall out eventually, anyway, right? But as the placeholders for our permanent teeth, the primary teeth matter more than you may think. They also tend to fall out in a fairly specific order. Any significant deviation from that pattern may signal a developmental issue requiring further attention.
Most children will have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors by around the age of 7. Any more or less than this could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, or extra teeth.
Crooked teeth can be harder to brush and floss effectively, and they’re also more susceptible to uneven wear and tear. This can eventually affect both the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue.
Trouble with spacing can show up when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or with teeth that are too small or spaced apart.
Front teeth that noticeably protrude can be a cosmetic concern, but they may also increase the risk of potential injury to the permanent teeth. This can cause speech issues as well.
Underbites can be caused by problems with either the teeth or jaws, and involves the lower jaw growing too far forward, or the upper jaw growing deficiently.
A posterior crossbite can cause crowding, and may also cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other to fit the top and bottom teeth together. A narrow upper jaw can be associated with a narrow nasal passage sometimes, too.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
These are bite problems that occur vertically. In bites that are too deep, the top teeth completely cover the bottom ones when biting, which can indicate a small lower jaw.
In an open bite, the overall bite doesn’t overlap enough.
What happens once the evaluation is complete?
One of the biggest benefits of early orthodontic evaluations is that they allow us to be proactive rather than reactive. We’re able to get kids the high-quality orthodontic care they need at the most optimal time, using the most optimal method. We sometimes refer to this type of intervention as Phase I treatment, and it helps us achieve the kind of results that may be unattainable once the child’s face and jaws have finished growing. In general, Phase I treatment is used to encourage jaw development that will:
- better accommodate all the permanent teeth
- improve the way the upper and lower jaws fit together
- reduce the risk for damage due to crowding, misalignment, or malformed jaws
With Phase I treatment, Dr. Laidlaw may choose to use fixed or removable orthodontic appliances for a period of time in order to correct poor jaw growth, create space for developing teeth, and help the facial muscles develop normally. She can do this one or both jaws. Once this phase is complete, the appliance will be removed and we’ll begin a period of observation. Dr. Laidlaw may recommend a retainer during this time to keep the teeth stable, and she will continue to monitor the child’s mouth every 4-6 months.
Most Phase I patients will eventually need Phase II treatment. This will often require the use of braces or aligners to continue the stabilizing process and move the teeth into the desired positions. This will finalize the bite correction and create a beautifully aligned and fully functional smile!
Find your child’s best smile at Laidlaw Orthodontics
Here at Laidlaw Orthodontics, we’re proud to offer complimentary consultations. That means there’s nothing to lose by bringing your child in for an early orthodontic evaluation! If no immediate care is necessary, you’ll be invited back to our office every 6-12 months so Dr. Laidlaw can continue to monitor your child’s smile. This will allow us to keep up with their dental development, so we can catch any emerging problems and treat them if needed. Our recall visits, exams and x-rays are always free of charge.
There are also no dental referrals necessary to schedule an orthodontic consultation, although we will generally notify your child’s dentist with the findings from our exam. Along with early orthodontic evaluations, regular dental visits are one of the easiest ways to ensure good oral health for your child!
If you’re in Hillsboro or the surrounding communities and have a child who’s ready for their first orthodontic appointment, we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch today to schedule your FREE virtual or in-office consultation with Dr. Laidlaw, and take the first step towards a beautiful, healthy smile for your child.