The American Association of Orthodontists estimates
nearly 4.5 million people in the United States and Canada are currently receiving
Many parents assume they must wait until a child has
all of his or her permanent teeth before visiting the orthodontist, only to find
that treatment would have been less complex if started earlier, says Cynthia Beeman,
D.D.S., Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry,
Division of Orthodontics.
"All children should receive an orthodontic
screening by the time they turn 7 years old. Most children don't need treatment
at this age, but if the child has an orthopedic problem, such as a jaw that
is too narrow or not developing properly, it is much easier to correct earlier
than when they are older," says Beeman.
Many orthodontic screenings, such as those done at
the UK Orthodontics Clinic, are free for the patient, says Beeman.
"The goal during the screening is to check the
child's facial pattern and their teeth and bone alignment, as well as detect
any potential growth problems," Beeman says. "If no problems exist,
we generally recommend the child return yearly if monitoring is warranted, or
if not, when they are 10 years old."
Other habits that may need to be addressed during
an early orthodontic screening include:
- early or late loss of baby teeth
- difficulty in chewing or biting
- thumb or finger sucking
- jaws that shift or make sounds
- jaws and teeth that are not in proportion with the rest of the face
If a structural problem with the child's jaw growth
is detected during an orthodontic screening, it can often be corrected with orthodontic
appliances such as headgear, Beeman explains.
"Unfortunately, if you wait until the child is
an older adolescent or teenager, he or she may require surgery to remedy the problem,"
Best Age for Braces
"Children grow at different rates, and
determining the exact age that is best for braces varies from patient to patient,
depending on the problem and the goals of the treatment," Beeman says.
Putting braces on too early, such as 8 or 9 years
old, can often prolong the length of treatment as well as its expense, she says.
Also, a lot of normal growth and development occurs between the ages of 8 and
12 that may alleviate the need for some treatment.
For the best results in correcting your child's
teeth, consult with your local orthodontist for a screening to develop a treatment
plan. And if early orthodontic treatment is recommended, parents should not
be afraid to seek a second opinion.