A nice smile is a big deal. Practically speaking, having healthy, straight teeth helps us chew and talk efficiently. Socially, it’s often the first thing we notice (and one of the lasting things we remember) when we first meet someone. And a beautiful smile goes a long way in boosting our own confidence and self-esteem.
You might be interested to know that people are hardwired to prefer a stunning smile. In fact, a study by Kelton indicates that people with attractive smiles are more likely to get chosen for the job, make good lasting impressions, and even seem more successful overall.
All this to say, keeping tabs on your child’s oral development is important for their future selves. That’s what we want for our kids, right? Health, happiness, and confidence — now and in adulthood. And preventative, early orthodontic care might be a part of the equation.
When Should My Child Go For Their First Orthodontist Visit?
As a parent, you’ve seen your kids go from a gummy smile to their first baby tooth, to their first adult tooth. Such precious, milestone moments. And now that more of their adult teeth have come in, you might wonder, “When’s the best time for a first orthodontic visit?” Maybe you remember from your own childhood that you went to the orthodontist for the first time during those awkward pre-teen or teen years.
But today, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends a first visit happen much earlier, at age 7. Why? Because at this age, children typically have a few adult teeth growing in and their jaw shape is pretty much set. As an orthodontist, Dr. Melanie Wang can determine if there are any underlying bite, jaw, or teeth alignment issues that might develop.
Now, don’t worry, your second-grader won’t walk out of the appointment with braces on! At Dr. Melanie Orthodontics, we approach early interceptive treatment conservatively, as the AAO suggests. If issues are mild, we take a “monitor-and-see” approach and only recommend treatment when necessary. Most times, the first early orthodontic appointment is a simple check-in to assess if your kid’s teeth are on track. As we mentioned earlier, an orthodontist like Dr. Melanie can see if issues might develop as your child grows. If there aren’t any immediate concerns, we’ll just keep tabs on their teeth through regular appointments and only suggest treatment when it’s time.
The Benefits of Early Orthodontic Treatment
But what if Dr. Melanie does find that your child could benefit from early treatment? If you’re unsure about going ahead, we totally get it, early orthodontic treatment can sound a bit daunting! But rest assured, your child is expert hands with Dr. Melanie, and our comfortable, fun, and family-friendly offices in San Diego and Rancho Santa Fe will help you and your kids feel at home. And since information always helps, we’ve collected the ins and outs of early orthodontic treatment in this post to help you familiarize yourself with the process.
So what kinds of issues might need early orthodontic treatment? If your kid shows signs of having any of the following, an early, first orthodontic appointment is a good idea. Depending on the severity, your child might benefit from early treatment so that these issues don’t become worse later on:
- Protruding front teeth: Did your child suck their thumb into elementary school? Did they continue pushing their tongue up against the back of their front teeth well past the pureed food stage? If so, these prolonged baby habits can affect the alignment of your kid’s front teeth. Protruding front teeth can also up your child’s chances of tooth injury or loss.
- Underbites and overbites: An underbite is when the lower jaw sticks out farther than the upper jaw. The more common overbite is when the upper jaw sticks out past the lower jaw. In either case, the teeth don’t align properly and this can cause problems with chewing and speaking. Some kids can also feel self-conscious about their misaligned jaws.
- Anterior or posterior crossbites: This type of bite is when the jaw shifts to one side. It can result in asymmetrical jaw growth, gum recession, or excessive wear on the teeth.
- Crowding or overly spaced out teeth. Do your kid’s teeth look crammed together? Or do they have big gaps between their teeth? Early or late loss of baby teeth can cause issues with normal tooth development and spacing.
Early interceptive orthodontics, as it’s also called, is all about prevention. The goal is to catch complex issues like the ones we mentioned above before they have a chance to worsen. Sometimes, it’s actually harder to correct bite and alignment issues when you’re older; you might even require more intensive treatments. Early orthodontic treatment allows us to guide your child’s jaw growth to ensure proper, healthy alignment and make future treatments easier.
Early orthodontics happens in two phases. In Phase 1, we guide your kid’s jaw and facial growth with an orthodontic appliance while your child is still growing. Phase 2 happens when your child has all their adult teeth, like in the tween or teen years.
Phase 1 orthodontics does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to a healthy, straight smile for your kid. Once Dr. Melanie has assessed what the issues are, she might recommend appliances like special phase 1 brace for kids, orthodontic expanders, or space maintainers. In some cases, we might suggest removing certain baby teeth to make room for the adult teeth waiting to come in.
When it comes to braces for kids, Phase 1 braces typically include only select teeth, not full braces like on your neighbor’s teenage kids. And you might be surprised to know that Phase 2 treatment is typically quite short: only 9-12 months!
If your child’s upper jaw is too narrow for their adult teeth, Dr. Melanie might suggest a palatal expander. This kind of appliance gently opens up your child’s upper jaw to allow room for their permanent teeth and can eliminate the need for tooth extractions or jaw surgery later on. Now, we understand this might sound a tad intimidating, but it really is the best, least invasive way for opening up the upper jaw. You see, the upper jaw is made up of two halves when you’re a kid but they fuse together in the mid-teen years. An expander is made up of two halves that mimic the two halves of the jaw, and you use a tiny key to turn a tiny screw that pushes the two halves apart, little by little.
These are pretty much just like they sound. They keep space open between existing teeth for adult teeth to come in. Did you know that teeth tend to grow together to fill missing spaces? Maybe your child lost a baby tooth too early before the permanent tooth was ready to erupt and there is a gap. So Dr, Melanie might use a space maintainer to ensure that the gap stays open and prevent the surrounding teeth from doing what they’d want to naturally do!
Retainers are used after Phase 1 treatment is done. After all, we want to give those newly-straightened teeth the time to hold where we’ve positioned them. Kids typically wear this retainer for 6-12 months.
In Phase 2, we continue the progress made from Phase 1, moving your child’s adult teeth into their ideal spots. Now that all your kid’s adult teeth have erupted, it’s the best age for full braces or Invisalign®Teen. It’s also common for the orthodontist to suggest retainers or expanders at this time.
Whether you choose modern metal braces or clear ceramic ones, we use state-of-the-art technology at Dr. Melanie Orthodontics to design your personalized, custom braces. What can we say? We love using technology to provide our patients with the most comfortable and efficient experience possible!
With braces, we first do a quick and painless video scan. The software we use then chooses the ideal braces brackets shape for the best possible outcome. Then the brackets are attached to your teeth using custom 3-D printed trays. Because your braces are custom, you’ll have fewer adjustments and appointments. We also see less inflammation and discomfort, and less time wearing braces with better results!
If you and/or your child prefers the discretion or style of clear aligners, then Invisalign® Teen has special tabs at the back for kids to accommodate their growing molars. You also receive a few extra sets of clear aligners in case you lose them.
Phase 2 is all about designing a smile that’s straight, functions properly, and remains stable so your child will have healthy, beautiful teeth for the rest of their life. If Phase 1 is like the pitch, Phase 2 is like knocking it out of the park!
Early Orthodontic Treatment Pros and Cons
Now that we’ve shared all you need to know about early orthodontic treatment, let’s break it down into trusty pros and cons lists:
Pros of Early Interceptive Treatment
- Improves your child’s chewing, speaking or breathing
- Makes room for emerging adult teeth
- Preserves space for teeth that haven’t erupted yet
- Lowers the risk of damage to protruding teeth
- Can stop prolonged baby habits like thumb sucking and tongue thrust
- Creates facial symmetry
- Improves self esteem and confidence
- Lowers the chances of developing cavities, tooth decay, and periodontal disease
- Reduces the need for tooth removal
- Can ensures treatment is easier, shorter and more affordable in the teen or adult years
- Lessens or avoids future orthodontic correction or surgery
Cons of Early Interceptive Treatment
- Kids (and parents) will have more appointments if two-phase treatment is needed
- Kids aren’t always enthusiastic about the in-depth oral care that comes up
- Some orthodontic treatments — like braces or palatal expanders — can cause some tenderness, though this will go away quickly as soon as kids get used to their appliance
Come See Dr. Melanie for A Fun, First Orthodontic Visit!
Dr. Melanie and her team are your choice for early orthodontic treatment in San Diego and Rancho Santa Fe. We’ve been designing patients’ smiles since 2007! With our family-friendly, fun vibe, commitment to using the best technology, and our custom approach for each and every patient, your child is in for an amazing experience!