Orthodontics is focused on correcting problems with tooth and jaw alignment. In some cases, these issues may be easier to correct at a younger age, when the body and bones are still growing. Although braces aren’t usually appropriate until all of the child’s adult teeth have come in, other preventive measures and orthodontic appliances can be applied at younger ages. Early treatment can improve a person’s long-term outcome, setting them up for a lifetime of good dental health.
Most experts recommend that children have their first orthodontic visit around age seven. At this age, orthodontists can detect nascent problems with the child’s teeth and jaw. Then, as the child grows, those problems can be monitored and later treated at an appropriate time. Adult teeth are still erupting, helping orthodontists examine relationships between teeth and predict future crowding, overbite, underbite, and other issues.
Your child might need early treatment if:
Some conditions, such as extra teeth or adult teeth erupting in the wrong direction, are difficult to detect without an x-ray, so it is worth the time to have an orthodontist perform an evaluation even if you don’t detect any issues.
At the mixed dentition stage (ages 7-11), these issues can be resolved relatively simply. One of the most common appliances prescribed in interceptive treatment is the palatal expander. A palatal expander is a device that fits into the top of the mouth. A parent turns a key inside it, pushing it open by about 1 to 2 millimeters per week. Over time, this widens the upper jaw. Palatal expansion can help correct crossbite, crowding, and malocclusion. It is most successful in children under the age of 16, and it’s not uncommon for children in the 8-11 age range to undergo palatal expansion.
Various other therapies are prescribed depending on the patient’s needs. In the case of extra teeth, an extraction will be recommended. In the case of extra space, a space maintainer may be indicated. Others, such as the Nance and the Lower Lingual Holding Arch, preserve space in the dental arch if teeth are missing. Occasionally, braces are used in interceptive treatment.
Early intervention can help lower the risk of serious problems, help correct harmful oral habits, and help plan for future treatments like braces. Interceptive treatment can also be indicated at this age. Some of the benefits include:
Interceptive treatment is universally less expensive and quicker than comprehensive (standard braces) treatment. Usually, it is necessary to follow up with a second phase of treatment consisting of braces, however, for those who have undergone interceptive treatment (phase I), aligning the teeth in phase II tends to be quicker than it would have been otherwise.