If you picture a gawky teenager in full set of metal braces whenever you hear the word orthodontics, you’re not alone! This particular stereotype has proven itself to have a lot of staying power, but the truth is, orthodontics can be beneficial to patients of all ages, including children. That’s just one reason why the American Association of Orthodontists recommends kids have an orthodontic evaluation around the age of 7!
This can be confusing for parents, since most children still have developing mouths and a number of baby teeth at this age. You may wonder why they would need to see an orthodontist so soon, but this is part of the preventative approach we take to orthodontic care here at Westfall Orthodontics. When you schedule an early exam with an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Westfall, our expert team has the chance to catch any existing or potential orthodontic issues sooner rather than later. This can keep those problems from becoming a bigger deal later on in life, which helps prevent a negative impact on their future permanent teeth and bite.
Because our practice treats many younger patients, we’ve been able to observe firsthand how starting treatment at the right time can have a positive impact on a child’s overall oral health. If your child is around the age of 7 and ready for their first orthodontic appointment, we’d love to take a look at how their mouth is developing! To learn more about some of the things Dr. Westfall will be checking for during this initial evaluation contact our office here.
Tooth loss and eruption
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of baby teeth. After all, they eventually fall out! But as the placeholders for our permanent teeth, where they’re located and when they’re lost matters more than you may think. These primary teeth also tend to fall out in a fairly specific order, so if we notice any significant deviation from that pattern, it could signify a developmental issue that needs further attention from us.
By age 7, most children will have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors. If a child has any more or less than this, it could indicate that there are missing, crowding, or extra teeth. In some of these cases, we may choose to remove a primary tooth early. In others, we may opt to simply maintain a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely in order to prevent other problems later on.
Crowding and spacing
We can normally tell pretty early on whether or not a child is experiencing problems with excessive crowding or spacing of their teeth, or if this is something they may develop later on. Spacing issues can show up when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or with teeth that are too small or spaced apart. If crowding is the problem, it can often be corrected by expanding the arches or removing certain teeth.
Crooked teeth are harder to clean effectively, and they also tend to be more susceptible to damage and wear. When misalignments go untreated for a long enough period of time, it can compromise the surrounding gum tissue, affecting the shape and position of it. While we’re able to successfully align teeth at almost any age, getting a head start on correction can help minimize some of that wear and tear in children, giving them the best chance of a healthy, happy smile!
Overbite (protruding front teeth)
Cosmetic concerns are common with an overbite, but it can also cause pain in the jaw, and may even interfere with a patient’s speech. While we may have to wait until a child’s mouth has finished growing to permanently correct an overbite, there are still a number of things we can do to help reduce the risk of pain and traumatic injury. Corrective measures can also improve a younger patient’s confidence and self-esteem.
An underbite can be caused by problems with either the teeth or jaws. The most difficult scenario involves the lower jaw growing too far forward. In a case like that, we’ll typically need to wait until the patient has finished growing to begin their treatment, usually in their mid- to late-teens. However, early treatment is still important for avoiding any bite-shifting and damage to the front teeth. Additionally, underbite patients who receive early treatment between the ages of about 7-10 tend to be less likely to need jaw surgery when they get older.
A posterior crossbite can lead to crowding, and may also cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other. Expanding the upper jaw in earlier childhood may allow us to reduce crowding and create space for the front teeth to come through uninterrupted. Expansion can also eliminate any shifting that may be present due to a constricted upper jaw.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
In a deep bite, the child’s top teeth can completely cover the bottom ones when biting, which is sometimes an indication of a small lower jaw. With an open bite, the overall bite doesn’t overlap enough. This can be caused by poor oral habits, such as extended finger or thumb sucking, or if a child uses a bottle or pacifier for too long. Our team will be happy to work with you and your child to help eliminate any destructive habits early on, which will allow their dental development to continue normally.
Early evaluations lead to healthier smiles at Westfall Orthodontics
Now that you’re aware of the many issues younger patients can face, it’s easy to see why early orthodontic evaluations are such an important part of a child’s oral health. Timing is an important factor, since a child’s jaw bone hardens as they age, and eventually stops growing altogether. Any orthodontic procedures needed after that point will tend to take more time and may be more invasive, like tooth extractions or oral surgery.
Having an experienced board certified orthodontist examine your young child will often help prevent the need for orthodontics as an adult, and can also make comprehensive orthodontic treatment faster and more efficient! Westfall Orthodontics is proud to provide quality orthodontic care for patients of all ages in a friendly, stress-free environment. If you’re in Abingdon, Bristol, Richlands, or the surrounding communities, we’d love to schedule an initial visit for your child. Get in touch today and let’s get started!