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Early Orthodontic Treatment

You probably know that it's never too late to begin orthodontic treatment — but when it comes to your youngster's teeth, did you know that earlier orthodontic intervention may be better? According to the American Association of Orthodontists, kids should have an initial orthodontic screening at age 7. What makes early evaluation — and potentially, early treatment — so important?

Orthodontic Problems.

There are several ways that kids can benefit from seeing an orthodontist at an early age. But it's important to recognize that an early evaluation isn't necessarily followed by an early treatment. In most cases, if orthodontic work is needed, we simply monitor your child's growth patterns until we see that it's time for treatment to begin. This gives us an opportunity to get the best results in the most efficient way, and to help prevent future problems.

Although every child's development is different, in most kids the first adult molars have typically started to emerge by around age six. This, along with other developmental markers, lets us get a handle on the basic alignment of the teeth, from front to back and side to side. It may also be possible at this point to determine whether there is adequate room in the mouth for all of the permanent teeth — and, if not, to take action.

When Earlier Orthodontic Intervention Is Better

Treatment for common orthodontic problems typically begins around age 9-14, when all of the baby teeth are gone and many of the permanent ones are in place. But there are some conditions that are much easier to treat if they're caught at an early age, when a child's natural growth processes are going full speed ahead.

One example is severe crossbite, a condition where many or all of the upper teeth close inside the lower teeth. To treat this problem, a device called a palatal expander can be used, which gradually and painlessly widens the upper jaw; it's especially effective when the jaw itself hasn't fully developed. If we wait too long, a more complicated treatment — or even oral surgery — might be required to correct the problem.

Another condition that may benefit from early treatment is severe crowding. This occurs when the jaws are too small to accommodate all of the permanent teeth. Either palatal expansion or tooth extraction may be recommended at this point, to help the adult teeth erupt (emerge from below the gums) properly. Even if braces are required later, the treatment time will likely be shorter and less complicated.

Early orthodontic intervention may also be helpful in resolving several other problems. Protruding teeth, especially in front, can be prone to chipping and fractures; they may also lead to problems with a child's self-image. A severe underbite, caused by the lower jaw growing much larger than the upper jaw, can result in serious bite problems. 

Orthodontic appliances, including braces and headgear, can be successfully used to correct these problems at this stage, when the child's development is in full swing, thereby increasing the chances that surgery can be avoided.

Correcting Bad Habits

Dangers of Thumb Sucking.

At one time or another, anyone may pick up a bad habit. But there are some situations where a youngster's parafunctional (outside normal function) habits can actually influence the development and function of his or her teeth, jaws and mouth. Some examples of these are persistent thumb sucking, tongue thrusting and mouth breathing.

The sucking reflex is natural in early childhood; it usually disappears between ages 2 and 4. But if it persists much later, the pressure of the digit on the front teeth and the upper jaw can actually cause the teeth to move apart and the jaws to change shape. This can lead to the orthodontic problem called “open bite,” and may impair speech. An open bite can also be caused by the force of the tongue pushing forward against the teeth (tongue thrusting).

Mouth breathing — an abnormal breathing pattern in which the mouth always remains open, passing air directly to the lungs — is related to alterations in the muscular function of the tongue and face. It may cause the upper and lower jaw to grow abnormally, which can lead to serious orthodontic problems. Although mouth breathing may start from a physical difficulty, it can become a habitual action that's hard to break.

Various orthodontic treatments are available to help correct these parafunctional habits — and the sooner they're taken care of, the less damage they may cause. But these potential problems aren't always easy to recognize. That's one more reason why you should bring your child in for an early orthodontic screening.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of early orthodontics?

In addition to reducing future treatment time, many patients seek early orthodontic treatments to improve facial symmetry, reduce the risk of damaging a protruding tooth, and to improve speech. Early interventions will be less painful and less expensive than more invasive future treatments. 

If you think your child would benefit from an orthodontic consultation, contact our Greensboro office by calling (336) 286-5800 or Eden office at (336) 627-1537. During the consultation, Dr. Katz will conduct a full examination and provide you with a customized treatment plan that will include specific details about your child’s needs.

Can my child play sports while wearing braces?

Yes. Dr. Katz will advise wearing a mouthguard while participating in activities that may damage the appliance, especially sports. If you have any questions or need recommendations for mouthguards, don’t hesitate to contact our Greensboro office by calling (336) 286-5800 or our Eden office at (336) 627-1537, and one of our helpful team members will be happy to assist you.

How can orthodontics benefit my child’s smile?

There are various ways that having a perfect smile impacts your child’s life, such as: 

  • Increased confidence
  • Better functioning of the teeth
  • Better long term oral health
  • Guide permanent teeth into more favorable positions
  • Reduced wear on the teeth
  • Will I need to follow any special instructions while my child is undergoing orthodontic treatment?

    In addition to ensuring your child’s appliance is being worn correctly, you’ll need to also prevent your child from consuming foods that could damage the appliance. If your child’s appliance is removable, you’ll need to clean it regularly and store it according to your orthodontist’s instructions.

    If your child damages or loses their appliance, be sure to contact our office right away so we can either fix the appliance or recommend a new one. This will ensure your child stays on track with their treatment plan and timeline.

    Early Orthodontic Intervention for a Better Outcome

    Treating orthodontic issues before they become problematic can prevent the need for more costly and invasive treatments down the line. Contact our office to schedule your orthodontic consultation with Dr. Katz by calling our Greensboro office (336) 286-5800 or our Eden office at (336) 627-1537. With decades of experience in orthodontics, Dr. Katz is ready to serve your child's needs.

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    Katz Orthodontics

    • Greensboro Office - Brassfield Professional Center 2018-A New Garden Rd., Greensboro, NC 27410 Phone: 336-286-5800 Fax: 336-286-5801
    • Rockingham County Office - Professional Village, Building 4, 707 S. Van Buren Rd., Eden, NC 27288 Phone: 336-627-1537 Fax: 336-286-5801

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