A healthy smile starts at a young age, and many orthodontic problems can be prevented or addressed early if caught soon enough. Although most children don’t need orthodontic treatment until around age 11 or 12, it is important to recognize and address warning signs as early as possible in order to protect your child’s oral health and prevent more serious complications from developing further down the line.
An orthodontist is an oral health care professional specializing in straightening teeth and correcting bad bites. Orthodontists use braces, retainers, spacers, and other orthodontic appliances to correct the alignment of the teeth, as well as reshaping the jaw in order to improve physical appearance and dental health. An orthodontist also provides preventative care for issues related to crooked teeth or other misalignments.
An orthodontist has different training than a dentist who handles routine care such as cleanings and fillings. Orthodontists must have completed more advanced training than dentists; they typically receive two to three years of specialized schooling after finishing dental school. Some general dentists are also licensed orthodontists.
Seeing an orthodontist early is important, as early detection and treatment of orthodontic problems can prevent more serious issues from developing. Ideally, children should be seen by an orthodontist around the ages of seven and eight years old since that is when many common orthodontic problems become apparent. Early visits for your child to get examined can also save you the time and money associated with later treatments. By treating problems in their early stages, more comprehensive treatments can be avoided, which can save you money and save your child pain, discomfort, and potential damage resulting from untreated issues.
As your child begins to lose their baby teeth and their permanent teeth erupt, keep an eye out for the following warning signs that your child may need orthodontic care. If they are experiencing any of these signs before age 7, you can call and schedule an initial consultation with an orthodontist.
If your child has difficulty chewing or biting, this could mean they have misaligned teeth. This difficulty can also cause pain, headaches, jaw dysfunction, and other dental issues over time. An orthodontist can evaluate the cause of the difficulty and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Difficult speaking can signify that a child needs to see an orthodontist. In many cases, issues with speech are related to the alignment of teeth and jaw, which can interfere with proper articulation. Young children who are struggling to communicate effectively due to difficulty speaking properly can benefit from an orthodontic consultation to determine the root of the problem.
Teeth overcrowding can lead to misalignment and irregularities, which affect how the teeth properly perform their job of biting and chewing. Left uncorrected by orthodontic treatment, these issues can cause plaque buildup and tooth decay, as well as problems with the jaw joints, chewing function, and speech development. Orthodontists can use a variety of treatments — such as traditional braces or clear aligners — to correct overcrowding by gradually moving teeth into proper alignment.
Excessive spacing between teeth can often cause alignment issues in the jaw, teeth, and gums, leading to difficulty chewing food, pain when brushing or biting into something hard, and even embarrassment due to how their smile looks. An orthodontist will monitor the child as their adult teeth grow and create a treatment plan, if needed.
In many cases, an underbite or crossbite can indicate that a child needs to see an orthodontist. A qualified orthodontist can assess each individual’s case using digital X-rays and impressions taken from the mouth to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored specifically for their particular bite misalignment. Correcting crossbites or underbites early in childhood allows for shorter, easier, and more effective treatments that can improve their self-confidence and oral health.
Protruding teeth, particularly if they are in the lower front of the mouth, is another indicator that a child needs to see an orthodontist. If left untreated, protruding teeth can cause problems such as difficulty chewing or damage and wear to other teeth and soft tissues. Orthodontic treatments such as braces or appliances may be necessary to properly align the teeth and improve the aesthetic appearance.
Baby teeth usually fall out naturally as the child’s permanent teeth push through. If a baby tooth falls out prematurely, the underlying permanent tooth may not come in correctly. This can leave extra spaces between the teeth or cause crowding of teeth, which may require orthodontic treatment. Conversely, if some baby teeth remain for too long after the permanent tooth erupts, it could prevent the proper growth and development of those adult teeth, leading to misalignment in the bite.
Jaw shifting, or malocclusion, is a common issue in children and can be addressed through orthodontic treatment. With jaw shifting, the upper and lower jaws do not align correctly, and the teeth do not fit together properly. Improper jaw alignment can cause your child difficulty with basic mouth movements and functions like talking, eating, and biting. If your child suffers from jaw shifting, it is definitely a sign that they need to see an orthodontist for professional assessment and treatment. An orthodontist can determine the best course of action for treating malocclusion to ensure your child has comfortable speech and eating and proper dental function throughout their development.
Teeth grinding or clenching can be a sign of an underlying issue such as misaligned teeth, TMJ, or overbite. An orthodontist can help diagnose the cause of the teeth grinding and develop a custom treatment plan to resolve the issue. With braces or corrective appliances, an orthodontist can realign the teeth and jaw and relieve symptoms caused by teeth grinding. In addition to fixing the physical condition, they can also provide your child with devices like mouthguards to help protect their teeth while they sleep.
Children tend to develop self-soothing habits such as sucking their thumb or pushing their tongue against the roof of their mouth. While these behaviors can be normal during the teething stage, it can interfere with proper jaw and tooth development if it continues past four years of age. If your child is exhibiting signs of thumb sucking or tongue pushing after age 4, speak with an orthodontist about what options are available for treatment.
If you think your child may have orthodontic issues, call our office to schedule a consultation with our orthodontist. Addressing orthodontic issues early can help ensure your child has a healthy bite and straight smile as they grow into adulthood.