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Early Orthodontic Evaluation

An early childhood orthodontic evaluation can yield excellent results

A Consultation with Dr. Rodney S. Lee

Early Orthodontic Evaluation

Dear Doctor,
My son is only 7 years old and I can already see that his teeth are coming in very crooked. Is he too young for braces?

Dear Pam,
Even if he is too young for braces, it is not too early for an orthodontic evaluation. Some children, as early as 5 or 6 years of age, may benefit from an evaluation.

This evaluation is best performed by an orthodontist; orthodontics is a specialty of dentistry concerned with the study and treatment of malocclusion (literally, “bad bite”) and includes the study of facial growth and development. An orthodontist can determine whether preventative or interceptive treatment may be indicated.

The AAO recommends that children get a check-up with an orthodontist by age 7.

Malocclusions (bad bites) often become noticeable between the ages of 6 and 12, as the child's permanent (adult) teeth erupt. Children may experience crowding of teeth, too much space between teeth, protruding teeth, extra or missing teeth and sometimes jaw growth problems. Other malocclusions are acquired — such as those caused by thumb or finger-sucking, mouth breathing, dental disease, abnormal swallowing, poor dental hygiene, the early or late loss of baby teeth — and develop over time.

Orthodontic treatment often begins between the ages of 7 and 14. Treatment that begins while a child is growing, often referred to as “interceptive orthodontics,” helps produce optimal results. To achieve optimal treatment, children should have an orthodontic evaluation no later than age 7. By then, they have a mix of primary (baby) teeth and permanent (adult) teeth. Your child's dentist can spot problems with emerging teeth and jaw growth early on, while the primary teeth are present. That's why regular dental examinations are important.

Questions to ask your dentist

  • Is there enough space for my child's permanent teeth to come in without creating crowded teeth?
  • Is there anything I can do to prevent my child from needing orthodontics?

Orthodontists are trained to spot subtle problems with jaw growth and emerging teeth while some baby teeth are still present. Early detection of orthodontic problems in young children may make it easier to correct those problems in the long run. Waiting until all of the permanent (adult) teeth have come in, or until facial growth is nearly complete, may make correction of some problems more difficult and even impossible. For these reasons, the AAO (American Association of Orthodontists) recommends that all children get a check-up with an orthodontist no later than age 7.

So you're right on the money! Go and see your neighborhood dentist for the name of an orthodontist in your community.