Early Orthodontic Treatment for Children
What is the difference between early orthodontic treatment and regular orthodontic treatment, and why might my child need early treatment? How will early treatment benefit my child in the long run?
These are just a few of the questions surrounding the topic of early orthodontic treatment for children. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children see an orthodontist as early as age seven. At this point the orthodontist will evaluate whether your child will need orthodontic treatment.
Early treatment (also known as Phase One) typically begins around age eight or nine (Phase Two will begin around age 11 or older). The goal of early treatment is to correct the growth of the jaw and certain bite problems, such as underbite. Early treatment also helps to make room for permanent teeth to come in properly, lessening the chance of extractions in the future.
How to tell if your child may need early orthodontic treatment:
Not every younger patient needs early treatment. At Barron Orthodontics, after nearly 3 decades of experience with pre-adolescent patients, we take a very conservative approach. Most of the patients that we see between the ages of 7 and 10 years of age are placed on recall and monitored semi-annually until the adult teeth come in. There are, however, certain conditions that do require early intervention in order to intercept developing problems that could require extraction of teeth or jaw surgery later on. These conditions fall into the following general categories:
Crossbites of the Back Teeth
When the upper jaw is too narrow, the upper back teeth become locked inside the lower back teeth. This can lead to what is known as a functional shift of the lower jaw. Every time the patient closes, potentially thousands of times per day when swallowing and eating, the lower jaw deviates to one side. This can pull on the TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint,) and in a growing child can lead to the development of an asymmetric or crooked jaw. Early treatment is indicated in these cases directed at widening the upper jaw.
Crossbites of the front Teeth
When an upper front tooth or teeth are locked behind the lower front teeth, a traumatic occlusion occurs where excessive, unhealthy forces push the lower tooth forward which can lead to recession of the bone and tissue around the tooth. The upper front tooth is correspondingly pushed back. Timely early treatment is required in these instances to correct the crossbite and traumatic occlusion.
Under Bites Due to Excessive Lower Jaw Growth
When the lower jaw over grows the upper jaw in a younger patient, and the lower front teeth are completely in front of the upper teeth, early treatment is required to orthopedically correct this problem to avoid jaw surgery in the future. (Refer to our section on Dento-Facial Orthopedics.)
Severe Crowding with Not Enough Space for the Adult Teeth
A severely crowded lower arch with insufficient space requires early treatment to develop and widen the dental arch so the adult teeth can be accommodated without extraction.
In cases in which the upper primary, or baby, molars are lost prematurely, the adult molars will drift forward and block out other adult teeth that will come in later. These cases require early treatment to push the adult molars back into place.
Openbites occur when the upper and lower teeth do not completely touch when biting. Proper function is not possible and swallowing and speech problems may develop. Early treatment is required to avoid these problems. If allowed to fully develop, jaw surgery is often necessary to correct these problems.
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