Early Treatment for Children

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children get a check-up with an orthodontist no later than age 7. Although only some orthodontic problems need to be corrected at that age, an early exam allows the orthodontist to offer advice as to when the appropriate age to start treatment would be. Some orthodontic problems are easier to correct if detected early rather than waiting until jaw growth has slowed. Early treatment may avoid extractions of permanent teeth or jaw surgery later in life. While your child’s teeth may appear straight to you, there could be a problem that only an orthodontist can detect.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the benefits of early treatment?

    In some cases, your orthodontist might find a problem that can benefit from early treatment. Early treatment may prevent more serious problems from developing and may make treatment at a later age shorter and less complicated. For those patients who have clear indications for early orthodontic intervention, early treatment gives your orthodontist the chance to:

    • Guide jaw growth
    • Avoid the need for extractions of permanent teeth or jaw surgery at a later time
    • Lower the risk of trauma to protruded front teeth
    • Correct harmful oral habits
    • Guide permanent teeth into a more favorable position
    • Improve the way lips meet
  • What are some signs of a developing or existing orthodontic problem?

    Here are some signs or habits that may indicate the need for an orthodontic examination:

    • Early or late loss of baby teeth
    • Difficulty in chewing or biting
    • Mouth breathing
    • Thumb or finger sucking
    • Crowding, misplaced, or blocked out teeth
    • Jaws that shift or make sounds
    • Biting the cheek or roof of the mouth
    • Teeth that meet abnormally or not at all
    • Jaws and teeth that are out of proportion to the rest of the face.
  • What is Two-phase treatment?

    Two-phase orthodontic treatment consists of two separate times when a child receives orthodontic treatment. A first phase of treatment is done while the child still has many of most of their baby (primary) teeth. A second phase takes place when the child has most or all of their permanent teeth.

    Phase I
    The goal of Phase I is to develop a child’s jaw size to make room for the future erupting of permanent teeth and to improve the relationship of the upper and lower jaws to create a more balanced profile. This may involve either fixed or removable expanders and growth modification appliances such as headgear and/or functional appliances and frequently lasts one to two years.

    The Resting Period
    Between phases, retainers are worn to maintain the Phase I results while allowing the remaining permanent teeth erupt. Starting approximately at age 10, children lose 12 primary (baby) teeth and by age 12 or 13, they gain 16 permanent teeth. During this period, occasional appointments for observation and retainer adjustments will be necessary, usually once about every 4 to 6 months.

    Phase II
    The goal of the second phase of treatment is to position all the permanent teeth to maximize their appearance and function. This is best accomplished in most cases by placing braces on all the upper and lower teeth. Due to the improvements made during Phase I, Phase II requires less patient involvement (less frequent use of headgear) and greatly reduces the time spent in "full braces".