What is the Best Time to Start Early-Age Treatment?
There is no “best time” to start orthodontic treatment because the answer depends on your child’s unique situation. However, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that all children be seen by an orthodontist no later than age 7. Many orthodontists recommend even earlier screening at the age of 4 or 5 because there are some problems and habits that are best treated as early as possible.
For the most part though, if your child needs an early-age treatment, the treatment will be started when all the 6 year old molars and all of the adult incisors have erupted. Waiting too long beyond this point could make the treatment less effective because the child's growth will stop and many early-age treatments rely upon utilizing the patient's growth. In other words, there is a window of opportunity to treat certain problems that should not be missed!
What are the Benefits to an Early-Age Treatment Approach?
- Improvements in Self-Esteem: During critical years of childhood and adolescence, front teeth play an important role in a child's self-esteem and psychological well-being. Irregularities in the front teeth can cause teasing from classmates. Straightening the teeth during early-age orthodontic treatment can cause improvements in self esteem during these years.
- Less Overall Time: Although the patient is technically an orthodontic patient for a longer period of time, because problems are more easily treated earlier, there will be longer periods between appointments and shorter appointments in general, which is important for busy parents in this day and age.
- Less Pain: Some tooth alignment problems and bite problems can cause pain for children when they bite down or speak, so fixing them early will have a positive effect.
- Prevention of Chipping and Damage to Teeth: Protrusive or “Bucked” teeth are more at risk for fracturing or chipping so fixing them will minimize this risk.
- Fewer or No Extractions: Much of the crowding of teeth can be corrected by early expansion, or regaining of lost space from premature loss of baby teeth, which minimizes the need for permanent teeth extractions.
- Making Problems Less Severe: Early detection and intervention can make problems easier to deal with overall.
- Greater Patient Compliance: Kids around the age of 7 or 8 are much more excited to get braces and orthodontics than they are at the age of 13 or 14, which means that they are more likely to comply with doing the things that they are supposed to do.
- Stability of Results: Tooth movement in early age treatments are more adaptive to change and the results are more stable.
- Less Traumatic: For the most part the younger the patient is the easier tooth movements are, so overall there is less force needed to get the tooth to move which means patients experience less pain.
- Improvements in Esthetics: Studies show that a wider smile is considered more attractive. Early treatments that involve expansion can increase the width of a smile and make it more attractive.
- Improvements in Airway: Early-age treatment can also improve airways in growing children which can help with or help prevent other medical and cognitive problems.
- Lower Treatment Costs: Although each orthodontic office has different pricing models, for the most part early-age treatment should reduce overall costs. Especially if the need for more extensive procedures, like surgery, are avoided. Sometimes the cost savings could be substantial if a 2nd phase of treatment isn’t deemed necessary.
Examples of Some Early Age Treatment:
Palatal Expansion of a Narrow Upper Jaw:
We hope this 2 part series has helped you understand what early-age orthodontic treatment really is and if it is right for your child. Now you know why that 8 year old is getting braces!