Have you noticed that kids are getting braces at much younger ages? Even before all their baby teeth have fallen out, kids from the age of 8-10 are getting braces. This is early orthodontic treatment, also known as “Phase I” or “Early Interceptive Treatment.” An early orthodontic exam can help you determine if braces are necessary at this age.
Kids that have early orthodontic treatment will typically require a second phase of treatment, or “Phase II,” when their adult teeth grow in. Even though many of your child’s classmates may be getting braces, it does not mean your child will need Phase I. In some cases, a child can wait to get braces or clear aligners (like Invisalign) when all their adult teeth have grown in. The best way of knowing is to schedule an exam with an orthodontist.
So what are we looking for, if the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends a child’s first orthodontic screening at age 7? Why go through braces twice, if most kids will need Phase II after Phase I? Is early orthodontic treatment just a scam? Not quite. Below are 7 reasons why early treatment can benefit a child, and why early screening is important.
We can spot problems early
In addition to underbites, big overbites, and crossbites, we can also spot problems with the adult teeth inside the jaw bones.
Some common things we look for are:
- Missing adult teeth – (even with the baby tooth still in place).
- Adult tooth growing in the wrong direction
- Adult teeth that are too big for the mouth
- Adult teeth that are stuck behind other teeth (usually due to overcrowding)
Knowing about these issues early will help you to plan for the future. Sometimes Phase I is necessary for intervention.
We can still modify growth during early treatment
We can still modify the jaw of a child under the age of 11 or 12, to an extent. Bones in the skull have not finished fusing, making the upper jaw easier to expand if needed. The correction of jaw discrepancies is easier, more stable, and can decrease the amount of time that is necessary for Phase II.
For example, if a child has:
- An underbite,
- A large overbite,
- Crossbites (both front and back),
- Severe crowding
the issue can be corrected better, faster, and will have a better outcome. If these kinds of jaw issues are not addressed early enough, you may need jaw surgery in the future to correct them.
We will keep an eye on it
Even if your child is not ready for orthodontic treatment at the initial visit, we will give you guidance on how often you will need to come back. We may recommend extracting certain baby teeth at specific times to allow for adult teeth to grow in the right place. We will also let you know when to expect orthodontic treatment. Some check-up appointments can be very fast, and can include updated x-rays to make sure teeth are still growing okay.
We can help your child gain confidence
Confidence can sometimes be understated. If your child is embarrassed about his or her smile, it can affect how they feel in school or with friends. You may notice that they try to cover up their mouth when they smile. Sometimes you can tell that they are trying not to fully smile in case their crooked teeth show. Unfortunately, some children may be bullied at school. If there are no health issues that warrant early treatment, just straightening the teeth is still an option at an early age. The emotional boost may be well worth it.
We can help your child get used to the environment
Some children need some extra time to get used to a new environment. This includes the orthodontic office. In this case, even if orthodontic treatment is not needed at an early age, frequent visits to the orthodontic office can help them become acclimated. By the time they are finally ready for treatment, they will be emotionally ready as well.
We will coordinate with the dentist
Orthodontists work side-by-side with general dentists, especially when there is a more complex treatment plan involved.
After the early orthodontic exam, we will tell your dentist when your child:
- Has any missing teeth
- Needs extractions
- Needs Phase I treatment, what will be involved, and how long treatment will be