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Early Orthodontic Treatment for Children

What is the difference between early orthodontic treatment for children and regular orthodontic treatment, and why might my child need early treatment? How will early treatment benefit my child in the long run?

These are just a few of the questions surrounding the topic of early orthodontics. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children see an orthodontist as early as age seven. At this point the orthodontist will evaluate whether your child needs early orthodontics.

Early orthodontics, also known as Phase One, typically begins about age eight or nine. Phase Two begins around age 11 or older. The goal of early treatment is to correct the growth of the jaw and certain bite problems, such as an underbite. Early orthodontic treatment for children also helps to make room for permanent teeth to come in properly, lessening the chance of extractions in the future.

Signs that your child needs early orthodontics treatment

  • Early or late loss of baby teeth (your child should typically start losing teeth around age five, and will have all permanent teeth around age 13)
  • Difficulty chewing and/or biting
  • Mouth breathing
  • Your child continues sucking his or her thumb after age five
  • Speech impediments
  • Protruding front teeth (the top teeth and the bottom teeth extend away from each other)
  • Spacing of teeth that don’t come together in a normal manner
  • Shifting of the jaw when your child opens or closes his or her mouth (crossbite)
  • Crowding of the teeth around age seven or eight

How early orthodontics treatment benefits your child

Orthodontic problems such as crowding of the teeth, poor spacing of teeth, jaw growth problems, protruding front teeth and bad bites can be inherited or caused by injury to the mouth, early or late loss of baby teeth, or thumb-sucking habits. Most children lose all their baby teeth by age 13 and, by the end of their teen years, jawbones will harden and stop growing. Orthodontic treatment for adults often takes more time and can involve tooth extraction or oral surgery. Receiving early orthodontics treatment as a child can help prevent the need for orthodontic treatment for adults, leaving little to no chance of extraction or surgery in the future. If your child is between the ages of seven and eight and shows signs of needing orthodontic care, or if you have been directed by your family dentist to visit an orthodontist, please contact our practice and schedule an appointment. Our team will provide your child with an initial exam, and discuss with you the best steps to take toward caring for your child’s smile.

The advantage of two-phase orthodontic treatment

Two-phase orthodontic treatment is a special process combining tooth straightening and physical, facial changes. The purpose of two-phase orthodontic treatment is to maximize the opportunity to accomplish the ideal healthy, functional and aesthetic result that will remain stable throughout your life.

What if I put off orthodontic treatment?

Putting off treatment can result in a need for more invasive, expensive treatment later in life that may not completely fix your smile. Early treatment is most effective for achieving optimal lasting results.

Phase One

The goal of Phase One orthodontic treatment is to help the jaw develop in a way that will accommodate all of the permanent teeth and improve the way the upper and lower jaws fit together. Children often exhibit early signs of jaw problems as they grow and develop. An upper jaw that is growing too much or is too narrow can be recognized at an early age. If children over the age of six have this jaw discrepancy, they are candidates for early orthodontics treatment. Also, if children around the age of eight have crowding of the teeth, early treatment can prevent the need to extract permanent teeth later. Planning now can save your smile later. Children benefit tremendously from early-phase treatment. Receiving early treatment may prevent the removal of permanent teeth later in life, or the need for surgical procedures to realign the jaws.

Orthodontic records will be necessary to determine the type of appliances to be used, the duration of treatment and the frequency of visits. Records consist of models of the teeth, X-rays and photographs. During your child’s first consultation, your doctor will take records to determine if early treatment is necessary.

Resting Period

In this phase, the remaining permanent teeth are left alone as they erupt. It is best to allow the existing permanent teeth some freedom of movement. A successful first phase will have created room for permanent teeth to find an eruption path. Otherwise, they may become impacted or severely displaced.

At the end of Phase One, teeth are not yet in their final positions. This will be determined and accomplished in the second phase of treatment. Selective removal of certain primary (baby) teeth may be in the best interest of enhancing eruption during this resting phase. You will need periodic recall appointments for observation, usually every six months.

Phase Two

At the beginning of Phase One, we made orthodontic records and established a diagnosis and treatment plan. We also used certain types of appliances such as a palatal expander to correct and realign the teeth and jaw. This second phase begins when all permanent teeth have erupted, and usually requires braces on all teeth for an average of 24 months. Retainers worn after this phase will ensure you retain your beautiful smile.

The goal of two-phase orthodontic treatment is to make sure each tooth has an exact location in harmony with the lips, cheeks, tongue and other teeth. When this equilibrium is established, the teeth will function together properly. Phase Two usually involves full upper and lower braces.

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