“Your teeth look great. You most likely won’t need braces. Lucky you!” was what this 20-year-old college student had been told her entire life. And the people who told her that were right – her teeth did look great. What they were missing was hiding underneath the surface and only diagnosed by an x-ray and a dental professional: an impacted tooth, stuck in the roof of her mouth, and a baby tooth that never fell out. That 22-year-old college student was my friend.
Fortunately, we were able to fix her teeth and give her a beautiful smile. Unfortunately, my friend had to have oral surgery procedures and braces for 3 years of her adult life. All of this may have been avoided if she saw an orthodontist as a child.
Did you know that the phrase, “timing is everything,” applies to your child’s teeth? When it comes to braces, Invisalign, and orthodontic treatment – timing really is everything.
It is a common misconception that kids should lose all their baby teeth before seeing an orthodontist. In fact, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children see an orthodontist at age 7. While this may seem early, there are many important things your orthodontist is looking for at this age.
Most children do NOT need braces at age 7, but seeing an orthodontist early allows us to monitor growth and development and intercept potential problems.
The sooner we catch a problem with developing teeth, the better we can plan for it. Seeing an orthodontist early can often help your child avoid bigger problems in the future, and in some cases, avoid orthodontic problems all together.
What are Early Braces and are They Necessary?
Phase I treatment (also known as “early braces” or “early Invisalign”) is orthodontic treatment done while a child still has some baby teeth. Most of the time early braces are not needed and your orthodontist will wait until all your baby teeth fall out before beginning treatment. But, in some cases, early braces are necessary and can provide tremendous health benefits for your child. Seeing an orthodontist early may simplify future treatment or eliminate the need for orthodontic treatment altogether.
Some common reasons your child may need early orthodontic intervention include:
- Open bites
- Jaw growth and development discrepancies
- Missing teeth, extra teeth, or impacted teeth
- Crowding or severely misaligned teeth that are hard to keep clean
- Protrusive teeth (also known as “buck teeth”) that are more susceptible to trauma
- Continued Oral Habits – thumb sucking, lip sucking, or pacifier use
- Esthetics – If your child is self-conscious about their teeth or bullied at school, they may benefit from early orthodontic treatment
What would have happened if my friend saw an orthodontist at age 7 instead of age 22? Most likely, the orthodontist would have done a complimentary consultation, taken an x-ray, and done a dental exam. They would have spotted the signs of her impacted tooth at age 7 and recommended minor treatment to prevent the tooth from becoming stuck in the roof of her mouth (impacted). Catching this early would have decreased her time in braces, avoided oral surgery for the impacted tooth, and saved her money.
It can be confusing to know if your child needs early orthodontic intervention or when they should get braces or Invisalign. Often, orthodontic problems go undiagnosed for many years. The great news is that most orthodontists offer complimentary consultations. You do not need a referral to see an orthodontist, so if you think your child may need braces now or in the future, call an orthodontist for a consultation. They will be able to guide you through treatment options or monitor your child’s growth and development until they are ready for braces or Invisalign later.
About the Author: Kirsten is a board-certified orthodontic specialist and owner of Frazier Orthodontics in Simpsonville. She moved from Illinois to Greenville last summer and is am grateful to call this community her home.
When not treating patients or taking continuing education courses, Kirsten loves reading, running and hiking with her dog, trying local ice cream shops, and traveling with family and friends.
Kirsten’s favorite part about being an orthodontist is meeting so many wonderful people. She enjoys using modern techniques to design beautiful smiles. More importantly, she loves connecting with her patients and making them feel special and cared for.