When I tell parents that they should take their child to the orthodontist by the age of seven, I’m often met with shocked responses. “Seven! Why so young?” While a visit to the orthodontist by this age may seem premature, there are actually several good reasons for it.
Here’s why an early childhood oral evaluation is so important.
Why Age Seven?
The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends a visit to the orthodontist by this age because this is around the time that children have at least two upper front teeth, four lower front teeth, and four permanent molars growing in. This is enough to give orthodontists a very good idea of what your child’s future orthodontic health will look like.
Keep in mind that seven is the latest your child should be seen by an orthodontist; in some cases, it’s smart for younger children, even as young as four, to be evaluated by an orthodontist. One example of this is if you see that your child bites their jaw forward or to the side.
Why a Child Should See the Orthodontist
An evaluation in early childhood is valuable because if the child does have any issues with their teeth, bite, or jaw, these issues are easier to take care of at a younger age. That’s because the jaw is still growing and the teeth are still coming in, and everything is more malleable. Intervention at this age may be more effective, faster, less invasive, and less expensive than waiting to address the problem once the jaw and teeth are more set in adolescence.
Intervention at this age can help:
- Keep bites from getting worse
- Guide jaw growth
- Create needed space for adult teeth to grow in
- Maintain space from early loss of teeth
- Reverse adverse effects of habits such as thumb-sucking or tongue thrusting
The goal of the evaluation is not necessarily to begin treatment, but to create a roadmap for future treatment, if necessary.
Evaluation does not mean treatment
I think some parents are hesitant to take their child to the orthodontist at a young age because they think that means their child will be told to get braces.
This is not true. In fact, the majority of children do not need treatment at this age. They either have no issues or their issues are better addressed later on. Only about 15% of the young children I see go through what we call Phase I treatment.
However, if treatment is recommended, it may be something simple such as a space maintainer, or an appliance to help stop destructive habits such as thumb sucking. Or it may be active appliances such as an expander or braces to make room for the incisors and alter the jaw size. Occasionally, the orthodontist may recommend preventive removal of a couple baby teeth in order to make space in the mouth for permanent teeth.
Schedule your child’s visit to the orthodontist
If your child hasn’t been to the orthodontist yet, go ahead and schedule an evaluation. No referral is needed from your dentist for a screening (and dentists may not recognize the signs that would indicate a referral, anyway). As you now know, there are good reasons for going at such a young age. Either your child will be one of the majority who has no issues to address just yet, or they will be one of the few that do – and in that case, early intervention may be more effective, cheaper, and less painful than waiting a few more years. Either way, you – and your child – win.