In our practice, we treat a lot of children and young adolescents. This means we’re often answering questions asked by their parents during their first orthodontic visit, who are in charge of deciding their child’s course of treatment. Here are some of the questions we’re asked most frequently.
How early is too early for my child to receive orthodontic treatment?
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that parents bring their child in for a first visit no later than the age of 7, and we often see children for the first time around that age. However, it’s not unheard of to treat children even younger than 7 if the issues are severe enough.
At this young age, children who do need orthodontic treatment (because not all of them do) undergo what’s called Phase One treatment. Phase One corrects underlying issues with the jaw and/or the space in the mouth through the use of headgear, fixed appliances, orthodontic appliances, and other types of equipment. For some children, Phase One intervention is all they need, but we tell parents to be prepared for their child to need Phase Two treatment, in which we help teeth grow in straight.
How can I tell if my child has jaw issues?
Most of the time, you can tell by looking. You can see an obvious overbite, underbite, or crossbite – types of “bad bites” related to jaw discrepancies – in the way the teeth fit (or rather don’t fit) together when your child smiles or opens their mouth. You can also often see the effects of jaw issues as the face develops, as a bad bite can cause an unbalanced profile or be the reason your child is unable to easily close their lips together.
Will early treatment prevent my child needing major procedures later in life?
It is possible, yes, depending on the exact nature of your child’s issue. Skipping early treatment could lead to jaw problems so severe that it requires surgery, though admittedly this is rare. In general, though, early treatment is advised because the results are better.
What parents are really asking with this question is “what if we wait for treatment?” In some cases, skipping early treatment means that we cannot get the full correction that we would have been able to get had we started early. We want to take advantage of the fact that while the jaw is still growing, it’s (relatively) easy to fix.
What are my responsibilities as a parent during my child’s treatment?
We tell parents that they should expect a hands-on experience in order to help their child get the most out of treatment. You can be a big help by ensuring your child is brushing and flossing thoroughly every day, especially if they have a fixed appliance such as braces or a permanent retainer. It’s also important for parents to ensure their children show up to every appointment, as treatment is faster and more effective when we can track progress and make adjustments regularly. Finally, parents can be the cheerleaders who encourage their children to comply with the orthodontist’s directions and take responsibility for the success of their own treatment.