The American Association of Orthodontists recommends kids see an orthodontist for an evaluation by the age of seven. That’s because at this time, a child will have his or her first permanent molars, which establish the back bite. We can then look at the side-to-side and front-to-back tooth relationships to see how things are shaping up. While early orthodontic treatment has become more prevalent in recent years, that doesn’t mean your child will leave their first appointment in braces. In fact, at Richard Chan Orthodontics, I always treat extremely conservatively with minimal treatment on young patients. Most of the time, I can get outstanding results without two-phase orthodontic treatment. That being said, there are times when stepping in early can prevent the need for more extensive treatment or surgical correction later in life.
What is Early Orthodontic Treatment?
Early orthodontic treatment, sometimes called two-phase orthodontic treatment or interceptive orthodontic treatment, is when a child starts treatment while they still have some primary teeth and are still growing and developing. I’m a specialist in dentofacial orthopedics, so I am able to use certain orthodontic appliances during a child’s younger years to guide their facial growth and the width of their upper and lower dental arches. I can also make room for the permanent teeth to come in correctly. When interceptive orthodontic treatment is indicated, it doesn’t necessarily always mean a full set of braces for kids. Sometimes, phase 1 orthodontic treatment involves orthodontic appliances, such as a palatal expander, that is worn until we achieve the movement or growth we want. Then, the kiddo takes a break for a while until all of the permanent teeth come in before finally using braces or Invisalign Teen in phase 2 treatment when they are teenagers.
However, the good news is, with so many advances in technology and techniques, I’ve been able to achieve really amazing outcomes without resorting to interceptive orthodontic treatment. Typically, when young patients visit for their first orthodontic appointment, I assess their bite and they continue to come back to Richard Chan Orthodontics over the years so I can monitor their growth and development. These early checkups are complimentary. Eventually, when they are ready to kick off treatment, I can help you pinpoint the ideal time to start it. It also provides a great opportunity for kids to get comfortable with visits and become familiar with the office. If your little one has oral habits like thumb sucking, mouth breathing, tongue thrusting or abnormal swallowing, I can give you guidance on correcting those as well.
Signs a Child Could Benefit from Interceptive Orthodontic Treatment
Though the following issues don’t necessarily mean your child will definitely need two-phase orthodontic treatment and we may be able to address some of them without it, they are an indicator that an orthodontic evaluation is needed.
- Early loss of primary teeth, especially if it’s due to decay or injury
- Problems with speaking clearly, chewing or biting
- Very crowded or misaligned teeth at the age of seven
- Protruding front teeth
- A significant underbite, overbite or crossbite
- Teeth that don’t meet together at all when your child closes their mouth
The Benefits of Early Orthodontic Treatment
I always weigh the early orthodontic treatment pros and cons and if it’s clear that the pros heavily outnumber the cons, then it could be recommended. When interceptive orthodontic treatment is the best course of action, the benefits are significant. The benefits can include:
- Making space to alleviate severe crowding
- Directing jaw growth and creating facial symmetry
- Reducing the risk of injury by shifting protruding teeth into their correct places
- Making sufficient room for the permanent teeth to erupt
- Warding off the need for extractions
- Decreasing the duration of orthodontic treatment in the teenage years or adulthood
- Boosting self-esteem and confidence
- Minimizing the likelihood that surgery will be necessary down the road
- Stopping habits like thumb sucking and tongue thrusting before they cause damage
- Helping a child chew, bite and speak properly and, sometimes, even opening the airway
- Giving them the gift of a beautiful smile
Looking for a children’s orthodontist in Mill Creek, Bothell or Monroe, Washington? Schedule a complimentary consultation at Richard Chan Orthodontics. My team and I take a conservative approach to early orthodontic treatment. If it is necessary, however, we will sit down with you and walk you through your child’s diagnosis. I’ll then explain the early orthodontic treatment pros and cons, present you with the best treatment options for your child’s smile and answer any and all of your questions. You’ll feel informed and educated, so you can make a confident decision about your little one’s care. Book your child’s visit today!