Most parents and caregivers know that regular dental visits are an essential part of maintaining a child’s oral health. Dentists definitely play a big role in keeping children’s smiles healthy and happy, but did you know that orthodontic evaluations are just as important? That’s why we recommend that your child see an orthodontist by age 7. Early exams help ensure a healthy and functioning mouth, but if you’ve always associated orthodontics with awkward teens in a full set of metal braces, you may not have even been aware that this is an option!
It’s never too early or late to take an interest in oral health, and we see patients of all ages here at Whitewater Orthodontic Studio. You may be confused when we talk about early evaluations, since younger children still have developing mouths and most of their baby teeth left. But this is exactly why these visits are so effective! When an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Leavitt is able to evaluate a child’s mouth at this stage, he’ll be able to:
- correct and guide the growth of the jaw to help the permanent teeth come in straight
- regulate the width of the upper and lower arches
- create more space for crowded teeth
- avoid the need for permanent tooth extractions later in life
- correct bad oral habits and help improve minor speech problems
Don’t just take our word for it, though! The American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children have their first orthodontic evaluation by around the age of seven. This kind of preventive care can have a positive impact on a child’s oral health, something we’ve seen firsthand many times over the years. If you have a young child ready for an orthodontic evaluation, we’d love to meet you both and take a look at their dental development.
During this initial appointment, Dr. Leavitt will be checking for a number of issues to determine if orthodontic treatment is recommended, whether now or in the future. To get a better idea of what he’ll be looking for, keep reading below!
Crooked teeth are more difficult to brush and floss effectively, and they are also more susceptible to uneven wear and tear. If misaligned teeth are left untreated for a long period of time, it can eventually affect both the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue. While we’re able to successfully align teeth at just about any age, correcting misalignments when a child is young can help prevent some of that excessive strain and will also give them a head start on a much healthier smile!
Tooth loss and eruption
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of baby teeth, especially since they all fall out at some point, anyway. But these primary teeth are placeholders for our permanent teeth, so where they’re located and when they come out matters more than you may think. Since they tend to fall out in a fairly specific order, any significant deviation from this pattern could signify a developmental issue that requires further attention.
By the age of seven, most children will have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors. If your child has more or less than this, it could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, or extra teeth. In some cases, we may choose to remove a primary tooth early or we may want to maintain a space where a tooth has been lost prematurely in order to prevent bigger problems later on.
Crowding and spacing issues
Experienced orthodontists like Dr. Leavitt will be able to observe any problems with excessive crowding or spacing when a child is fairly young. They’re also trained to tell if issues like this are likely to develop later on in life. 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. If crowding is an issue, it can often be corrected by expanding the arches or removing certain teeth.
Overbite (or protrusive front teeth)
Aside from the obvious cosmetic concerns, front teeth that obviously protrude can increase the risk of injury to the permanent teeth and cause possible speech issues as well. We’ll sometimes have to wait until a child’s mouth is done growing before permanently correcting an overbite, but there are still a number of things we can do in the meantime to help reduce the risk of traumatic injury. This can often boost a child’s self-esteem, as well!
Underbites can be caused by problems with either the teeth or jaws. The most difficult scenario involves the lower jaw growing too far forward. In these types of cases, we’ll often need to wait until the patient is close to being done growing to begin their treatment, usually during the teenage years.
Even if there’s a waiting period involved in resolving an underbite, early treatment is still important in order to avoid bite-shifting and damage to the front teeth. There are several things we can use to try and normalize the bite as early as possible. This includes something called “jumping the bite,” where we use braces or other appliances to get a start on a young child’s underbite before completing treatment later. Underbite patients who receive early treatment between the ages of 7-10 are much less likely to need jaw surgery when they get older.
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. When we’re able to expand the upper jaw in earlier childhood, we can 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. Sometimes a narrow upper jaw can be associated with a narrow nasal passage. In these cases, expansion can help improve breathing and nasal airflow while the patient is growing.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
These bite problems occur vertically, and we can normally spot them by the time your child is ready for their first orthodontic appointment. 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. This often indicates that there’s a finger, thumb, or tongue habit causing dental problems. If so, we’ll be happy to work with you and your child to eliminate bad habits early on. This will help their development to continue normally as they grow.
Give your child the gift of a healthy smile with Whitewater Orthodontic Studio
Like regular dental visits, early orthodontic evaluations are one of the most important things you can do to help your child achieve a healthy smile. When a child receives preventive treatment when they need it, destructive bite patterns can be prevented from getting worse and damage to the developing teeth is lessened. This often reduces the need for extensive orthodontic treatment as an adult. If further treatment is required at a later date, it often takes less time and is more efficient.
Whitewater Orthodontic Studio is committed to providing a fun and stress-free orthodontic experience to younger patients in Tacoma, Lakewood, Yelm, and the surrounding communities. If your child is ready for their first orthodontic appointment, get in touch with us today. There’s no dental referral necessary to schedule a FREE virtual or in-office consultation with Dr. Leavitt!