As parents, our number one job is to keep our kids safe, happy and healthy. But sometimes, it feels like our full time job is to worry about every developmental milestone they go through! At Dr. Melanie Orthodontics, many of us are parents ourselves so we totally understand how you feel. And naturally, the milestone we think about most often is tooth development. We are orthodontists in San Diego and Rancho Santa Fe, after all!
Whether your child is getting their first baby teeth or their permanent teeth are on their way in, it’s natural to keep a close eye on what those pearly whites are doing. And if they’re coming in crooked, it’s also natural to be a little (or a lot!) concerned. The good news is that it’s rare for kids’ teeth to come in perfectly straight and a little bit of crookedness is nothing to worry about (we know, easier said than done).
In this post, we’ll explain all about children’s tooth development and answer questions like:
- How are children’s teeth supposed to develop?
- When should I worry about my child’s crooked teeth?
- What causes crooked teeth in children?
- What orthodontic issues do crooked teeth cause?
- How do I know if my child needs orthodontic treatment?
How Children’s Teeth Develop
Did you know that all children are born with a full set of baby teeth? Yep, we all come into the world with 10 teeth on the top and 10 teeth on the bottom, hiding beneath our gums. The first stage of teeth development begins long before birth at about six weeks in utero. Then, at around three to four months, the hard tissue that surrounds the teeth begins to form. By the time we’re born, we’ve got all the teeth we’ll need throughout childhood.
Of course, baby teeth don’t begin to erupt through the gums until we’re between the ages of six and 12 months. If you’ve ever dealt with a teething baby, we don’t need to remind you about this part of the tooth development process! It can be both an exciting and overwhelming time for parents and kiddos alike, and it can take as long as three years for all of your child’s primary teeth to come in. Just remember: you’re watching your child’s future smile take shape before your eyes!
Once your child reaches approximately six years of age, they’ll start to lose their baby teeth. The teeth will get wiggly and fall out to make room for the incoming permanent adult teeth. They’ll also get a few more teeth than they had before! As kids, we have 20 teeth. As adults, we need 32. Most of us have 28 of our adult teeth by the time we’re 14 years old but the wisdom teeth take a little longer, emerging sometime in the late teens and early 20s. It’s common to have the wisdom teeth removed around this time.
My Child’s Teeth are Crooked — Should I Be Worried?
So you’ve noticed your child’s teeth are coming in a little crooked. Should you be concerned? In most cases, there is absolutely no reason to worry about it, especially if we’re talking about crooked baby teeth. Your child will go through so many changes in their early years and their mouths are no different. As their bodies continue to develop, so will their teeth, jaw and facial structure, so crooked baby teeth are likely to straighten out as the jaw settles into place. That said, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that all children see a dentist within six months of the eruption of their first tooth or no later than one year old. It’s a great opportunity to assess your child’s tooth development and help you establish good oral health habits from an early age.
But what if your child’s adult teeth are crooked? We still urge you not to stress too much about it just yet. Even though your child is getting their adult teeth, they still have many years of development ahead of them and the issue may resolve itself by the time all of the adult teeth come in. However, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids have their first orthodontic evaluation by age seven for this reason. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean your little one will walk out of our office with a mouth full of braces. This first visit is just so Dr. Melanie can examine your child’s teeth and jaw and ensure their growth and development is on track. In most cases, this will simply kick off an observational period where Dr. Melanie will keep tabs on your kiddo over the years and let you know when (or if) the time is right to start treatment. However, if certain red flags are spotted, early orthodontics while a child is still growing can allow us to guide jaw growth and prevent more complex issues from developing.
Why are My Child’s Teeth Crooked?
Crooked teeth can be caused by a number of factors. In some cases, there’s nothing you can do to prevent the teeth from coming in crooked but avoiding certain oral habits can often help. Here are some of the most common contributing factors to crooked teeth:
- Tongue thrusting
- Extended pacifier use (past 2 years old)
- Mouth breathing
- Poor oral hygiene
- Poor nutrition
By encouraging your children to practice proper oral hygiene, eat a healthy and balanced diet, and overcome negative oral habits, you can support the healthy development of both their baby and adult teeth. But if genetics are at play, your child may still develop crooked teeth. If that’s the case, come talk to us about early orthodontic treatment.
Types of Orthodontic Issues
While crooked teeth typically straighten out on their own, sometimes they lead to larger orthodontic concerns. Here’s a look at the most common types of malocclusion (also known as “bad bite”) that we see at our San Diego and Rancho Santa Fe orthodontic offices:
- Underbite: When the bottom teeth sit in front of the top teeth when the mouth is closed, it’s called an underbite. This type of jaw misalignment can cause difficulty with breathing, chewing and speaking, and may increase the risk of developing cavities and gum disease. It’s also common for people with an underbite to experience TMJ dysfunction and pain, and facial asymmetry. Since an underbite is skeletal in nature, it’s super helpful if it’s diagnosed and treated early before you’re done growing.
- Overbite: When the top teeth sit too far in front of the bottom teeth, it’s called an overbite, sometimes referred to as overjet if we’re getting fancy. If you’re closing your teeth together as you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking, well, I have an overbite. That’s true. Most people do have some degree of an overbite. However, when the space between the upper and lower teeth is too large, it can cause problems, including jaw discomfort and excessive wear of the teeth. It also makes your top front teeth more susceptible to injury.
- Crowding: Crowding is when there isn’t enough room in the jaw to fit all of the teeth. In an effort to squeeze in, the teeth will overlap, shift forward or back, or even twist. Crowding can happen if the baby teeth fall out too early or there’s an imbalance in the tooth-to-jaw-size ratio. Since crowded teeth are harder to brush and floss, your risk of tooth decay and gum disease is increased.
- Spacing: Spacing is the opposite of crowding and is when you have gaps between two or more teeth. It’s often the result of teeth that are too narrow for the size of the jaw, missing teeth or oral habits, like prolonged thumb sucking. Yes, spacing is a cosmetic concern and can make you feel self-conscious but it can also have a negative impact on the health of your gums.
- Crossbite: When some of the top teeth sit inside some of the bottom teeth when your jaws are closed together, it’s referred to as a crossbite. Depending on the teeth involved, a crossbite can be an anterior crossbite or a posterior crossbite. So, what causes a crossbite? Well, it can occur due to genetics, trauma, the early loss of primary teeth or certain oral habits. Since it’s not uncommon for patients to compensate by shifting their jaw to one side, it can lead to permanent changes in their facial structure if it’s not addressed.
- Open bite: An open bite is when your upper and lower teeth don’t meet at all when you close your mouth. It can make it hard to bite into food and to chew. An open bite is usually caused by genetics or oral habits like tongue thrusting, prolonged pacifier use or thumb sucking.
Is it Time to See an Orthodontist?
All of the above orthodontic issues are best treated when caught early on. With early assessment, diagnosis and intervention (when indicated), we can guide the proper, healthy development of the jaws and teeth. So if your child is around the age of seven, whether their teeth look crooked or not, it’s a great time to visit an orthodontist for an examination. We’ll never suggest orthodontic treatment unless it will have true benefit for the child and we’re happy to answer any questions you have about what the process entails. Did we mention consultations are always on the house? Contact Dr. Melanie Orthodontics to book your child’s complimentary check-up today!