There is some confusion and uncertainty that exists regarding the right time that a child should see an orthodontist for an initial evaluation. We will address some of the more common misconceptions and questions we face with the hope of providing some clarity on the subject for you and your family.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children have an initial evaluation with an orthodontist at the age of 7. This is not so we can put braces on your child even earlier. In fact, we recommend some form of orthodontic treatment in only a fraction of the young kids we see. However, this appointment is valuable to identify developing orthodontic issues or orthodontic issues that may already be present.
Why 7 Years Old?
Around age 6 or 7, some of the adult, permanent front teeth have come in as well as the first set of adult molars, appropriately nicknamed the “six-year-molars.” When these key dental “landmarks” are in, an orthodontist can identify how a child’s bite is likely to develop over the following years. With the help of one panoramic x-ray, we can also identify if your child is naturally missing any adult teeth (5% of the population is), as well as identify deviations from normal tooth eruption, which may lead to complications down the road.
What kind of orthodontic care might be recommended for my child?
If we do recommend orthodontic care for your 7-10 year old child, this is called “early treatment” or “phase one treatment.” The goals of early orthodontic treatment are to correct the issue in less than a year and then periodically evaluate the need for braces later in the early teen year. The most common types of early orthodontic treatment involve braces on the front teeth, a palatal expander, retainer, or a combination of these.
Believe it or not, some of the baby teeth are actually larger than the adult teeth that replace them. If your child shows signs of dental crowding, we may recommend a simple “space maintainer” to take advantage of this when it time is right. This can help to minimize dental crowding and tooth “crookedness” in the adult teeth.
What if my child does not need early orthodontic treatment?
If your 7+ year-old does not need orthodontic care or is not ready for orthodontic care, we will invite you and your child back to our office 6-12 months later for a re-evaluation. At these appointments we can re-evaluate your child’s growth and dental development and talk about possible braces when the adult teeth are in at age 11-14.
Because we offer free orthodontic consultations, there really is not much to lose by bringing your child in for an initial consultation besides 30-45 minutes of your time.
Does my dentist need to refer me to an orthodontist?
No. You do not need a referral from a dentist to see a certified orthodontic specialist. We will notify your dentist with the findings from our consultation as well as planned orthodontic care or periodic re-evaluation.
Are my child’s orthodontic needs necessary or purely cosmetic?
An orthodontic consultation can determine the extent of your child’s orthodontic needs and whether they qualify as necessary for ideal dental health and function or for esthetic purposes. In my opinion, both are legitimate reasons to seek orthodontic care. If your child is not happy about the way his or her front teeth look, they should see an orthodontist. The ability to smile with confidence and without hesitation during the formative childhood years can make a valuable difference in a child’s quality of life. Some children may be better off doing something now rather than waiting 3-5 years until they are ready for full braces as a teen.