Early Orthodontic Treatment

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends the initial orthodontic evaluation should occur at the first sign of orthodontic problems or no later than age 7. At this age, orthodontic treatment is usually not necessary, but a simple exam can anticipate the best time to begin treatment.

Benefits of early orthodontic treatment

Early evaluation provides both timely detection of problems and a greater opportunity for more effective treatment. In some cases, intervention is needed to guide growth and development to prevent serious problems later. Even if orthodontic intervention is not necessary right away, an orthodontist can carefully monitor development and begin treatment when it is ideal.

Why is age 7 considered the optimal time for screening?

By the age of 7, the first adult molars erupt, establishing the back bite. During this time, an orthodontist can evaluate front-to-back and side-to-side tooth relationships. For example, some overbites and underbites may respond better to treatment begun by the age of 8. Timely screening increases the opportunity to create an incredible smile.

What are the advantages of interceptive treatment?

Some of the most direct results of interceptive treatment are:
  • Creating room for crowded, erupting teeth
  • Creating facial symmetry by influencing jaw growth
  • Reducing the risk of trauma to protruding front teeth
  • Preserving space for unerupted teeth
  • Reducing the need for tooth removal
  • Minimizing or avoiding tooth extractions or jaw surgery at a later date

If significant problems are noted at an earlier age, then a two-phase treatment plan will be recommended. The tissues that house and surround the teeth are more adaptable at this age as they grow rapidly. We also find that our patients are more accepting of treatment at this age, and we are able to make this process an enjoyable one. Treatment at this age is called Phase 1 treatment and typically lasts from 8 to 12 months. Once all the adult teeth have erupted, we consider proceeding with the final phase of treatment.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends a child see an orthodontic specialist by age seven. The first permanent molars and incisors have usually erupted by age seven. Therefore cross-bites, crowding, and other dental problems can be evaluated. When treatment is begun early, Dr. McKenna can assist the growth of the jaw and guide incoming permanent teeth. Early treatment can also regulate the width of the upper and lower dental arches, gain space for permanent teeth, possibly avoid the need for permanent tooth extractions, reduce likelihood of impacted permanent teeth, correct thumb-sucking, and eliminate abnormal swallowing or speech problems. In other words, early treatment can simplify later treatment.

Not every child is in need of early orthodontic treatment. A child who does not need early treatment (but is likely to need treatment later) is simply placed on a recall phase in our office. During this recall phase, a patient is seen at pre-determined intervals (usually every 6 to 12 months), so Dr. McKenna can monitor the child’s dental development and jaw growth until orthodontic treatment is indicated.

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