Orthodontics for Children & Teens

Early Screening

When is the best time to begin orthodontics?

Orthodontics can be done at any age, and the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that every child should have an orthodontic screening at the first sign of orthodontic problems, or no later than age 7. At this early age, orthodontic treatment may not be necessary, however diligent examination can determine the best time to begin treatment.

Why is age 7 considered the optimal time for screening?

Early evaluation of a child’s condition is extremely important in orthodontics. By the age of 7, a child’s first adult molars erupt, establishing their back bite. During this time, an orthodontist can evaluate front-to-back and side-to-side tooth relationships. For example, the presence of erupting incisors can indicate possible overbite, open bite, crowding or "gummy" smiles. Creating a treatment plan before a child has a fully developed jaw, or had all of their permanent teeth fully erupt, can help save time and expense while improving confidence. When early orthodontic intervention is not necessary, Dr. Jones and Dr. Dearing can carefully monitor growth and development and begin treatment when the time is right.

Early Treatment

Some children can benefit from early orthodontic treatment around the age of 8 or 9 followed by a second phase of treatment around age 11 or 12. The goal of early orthodontic treatment is to correct irregular growth of the jaws and other developing bite problems. In some cases, the orthodontist will be able to achieve results that may not be possible once the face and jaws have finished growing. Some of the more common conditions that can benefit from this two-phased approach include:

  1. Crossbite where the upper teeth close inside the lower teeth. This can be treated with a palatal expander that gradually widens the upper jaw. This can help avoid more complex treatment and/or surgery in the future.
  2. Severe crowding where the jaws are too small to accommodate all of the erupting permanent teeth. This can be treated with a palatal expander, tooth extractions, or some combination of both. This type of treatment can reduce the time the patient has to be in braces later.
  3. Severe underbite where the lower jaw grows larger than the upper jaw. This can be treated with braces and nighttime headgear and can help the patient avoid more complicated treatment including surgery later.

Full Orthodontic Treatment

The most common time for traditional orthodontic treatment is between the ages of 11 and 15. By age 12, most if not all of the permanent teeth have erupted and are in place, and crooked teeth, gaps and bad bites can easily be detected. These problems rarely correct themselves, so this is when most parents seek orthodontic treatment. This is also a good time for orthodontic treatment because the negative associations of braces are not as prevalent. Many children in this age range undergo orthodontic treatment, and children are very often able to be convinced to wear braces because they see their friends wearing them, too.

Children at this age are growing rapidly, and orthodontists can usually take advantage of these growth spurts to help shape the bite and teeth correctly. Additionally, children at this age have high metabolisms, which can help shorten overall treatment time and reduce the discomfort of orthodontic treatment.

If you think your child might benefit from orthodontic treatment, please contact us to schedule a consultation. Dr. Jones and Dr. Dearing will do a thorough assessment and provide you with their recommendations along with an explanation of your options.