Recognizing Orthodontic Problems Early
While your first orthodontic evaluation might have happened in your early teens, dentists are now recommending that children receive their first evaluations at around seven years old. With such a significant change, you might find yourself wondering why it’s necessary. Examining your child’s teeth and bite at this age is better for their long-term oral health because it provides the chance to prevent orthodontic problems.
By around seven years old, enough of your child’s adult teeth have developed that trained dentists and orthodontists can predict orthodontic problems that will develop as more of their teeth erupt, including issues like overcrowding or misaligned teeth.
Instead of waiting for these issues to develop, dentists can then take immediate action to prevent them. Your child may still need orthodontic treatment later, but even if they do, early orthodontic treatments provide long-term results that reduce the severity, length, and number of future treatments like orthodontic braces.
To help you learn more about early orthodontic treatments and how they could help your child, we’ve put together a guide on orthodontic problems that can be recognized and corrected early on—well before the placement of braces.
True to its name, overcrowding happens when there isn’t enough room in your child’s mouth for all their teeth. This can lead to issues like teeth coming in crooked or becoming impacted, which is when new teeth don’t have the space to erupt properly and get trapped partially or completely beneath the gum line. Overcrowded teeth are also harder to floss and brush properly, which can increase your child’s likelihood of developing cavities or gum disease.
Thankfully, early orthodontic treatments can help reduce or eliminate more invasive treatments in the future like tooth extractions by creating more room in your child’s mouth. This is only possible while your child is young, before the bones making up their palate fuse together, making this a great example of just how important early orthodontics can be.
But how does your child’s dentist create more room in their mouth? They use a palatal expander, which is an oral device that is placed on the roof of your child’s mouth. It applies gentle, constant pressure outward to gradually spread the two pieces of your child’s palate apart. The bone simply grows to accommodate this new position, meeting in the middle again and making these changes permanent. It’s a relatively simple treatment with minimal discomfort, but the results are lifelong, giving your child a bigger jaw that has more room for their teeth.
If your child has gaps in between their teeth, there are a couple of potential treatments depending on the cause. Gaps caused by a baby tooth that was lost too early due to injury or decay are often maintained using a dental spacer. Baby teeth hold the place of adult teeth until they come in, but if one is lost too soon, the other teeth begin to shift into the gap. This can cause issues with the eruption of adult teeth, causing issues like impaction or crookedness. \
Maintaining the gap with a spacer prevents this, ensuring your child’s adult tooth has the space it needs to erupt straight and even—just the way it’s meant to! On the other hand, if there is simply too much space between your child’s teeth, this can be resolved using oral appliances that gently close these gaps over time without impacting developing teeth.
If you’ve noticed that your child’s teeth don’t line up with each other correctly when they close their mouth, they may have a crossbite. This can cause the upper back teeth to look like they’re tilted in toward your child’s tongue so that they fit inside the lower teeth, but it can also cause one or more of your child’s front teeth to sit behind the bottom teeth.
This last type of crossbite is different than an underbite, though, as it doesn’t involve all your child’s teeth. When it’s not addressed, a crossbite can lead to problems like uneven jaw growth, causing unbalanced facial features, uneven wear on some teeth, enamel and gum erosion, cavities, and jaw pain from issues like TMD.
Crossbite can be treated with early orthodontic treatments such as a palatal expander, which can give the teeth more space to even out, and removable appliances that apply pressure to a tooth that’s tilted inward to move it forward into the correct position. Your dentist may also recommend treatments to address the cause of your child’s crossbite, such as an extended thumb-sucking habit, and prevent it from recurring.
More severe cases of crossbite, however, are sometimes addressed by orthodontists using partial or phase one braces, which are designed to quickly treat specific, severe orthodontic problems without impacting the development of certain teeth.
An overbite is a common orthodontic issue where the upper teeth extend too far past the lower teeth. If it’s not treated, an overbite can lead to issues like increased risk of cavities and gum disease, jaw pain, TMD, and sometimes breathing or speech problems. When it’s caught early, dentists can use treatments like palate expanders to guide the growth of your child’s jaw or they may recommend you to an orthodontist who can use partial braces to adjust misaligned teeth.
Your child’s dentist may also recommend treatments to address contributing factors to your child’s overbite, such as tongue-thrusting. This is an issue where your child’s tongue rests against their front teeth instead of against the palate at the roof of their mouth, thrusting against those teeth when they swallow.
Both the resting position and thrusting behavior as they swallow puts pressure on your child’s teeth, causing them to angle outward. If it’s not addressed, your child’s teeth will begin shifting forward again even after treatment. This is why myofunctional therapy can be an essential part of your child’s treatment. It teaches them the proper way to position their tongues in their mouth and trains it into a natural habit, ensuring that your child’s teeth stay in the proper, aligned position permanently.
Your child could also develop a misaligned jaw where their lower jaw juts forward, causing their lower teeth to extend past their upper teeth. In addition to being an immediately noticeable aspect of your child’s smile, an underbite can make biting into and chewing food difficult and can cause jaw pain, TMD, uneven wear on your child’s front teeth, and can sometimes even cause speech or breathing problems. Underbites also make your child’s front teeth more vulnerable to injuries like chipping, cracking, or breaking.
There are a few ways to treat underbites, depending on the severity of your child’s case. Their misaligned jaw can be adjusted by an orthodontist using kids braces, or your dentist may use specialized oral appliances to pull their upper jaw forward into a proper alignment. Though it can be used on teenagers or slightly older kids, pulling the jaw forward like this is most effective for young children, especially those around eight years old or younger.
Early evaluation means earlier detection of issues.
Not every child needs early orthodontic treatment, but every child should be evaluated to determine if they do. Taking the time to do so is beyond worth it because when these treatments are necessary, they can prevent more invasive or lengthy treatments in the future and have lifelong positive effects on the health and appearance of your child’s teeth and jaws.
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of early orthodontics, what signs could indicate that your child may need orthodontic intervention, or if it’s simply time for your child’s evaluation with a pediatric dentist near Prince Frederick or Waldorf, feel free to schedule a consultation at any time.