By Dr. John White
Owner, Braces by White

When parents ask me at what age their child should see an orthodontist, I tell them that early evaluation is important; early treatment is a decision.

The majority of kids will not need interceptive treatment at an early age, but for those who do, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children see an orthodontist at the age of seven, but I have treated some as young as three or four years old (primarily jaw growth disharmonies).

Parents should treat a visit to the orthodontist just like they do a well baby visit to the pediatrician. An orthodontist’s trained eye is different from a mom’s or dad’s, because we look more objectively and can see problems that may not be apparent to parents or general dentists. And the earlier you find a problem, the better the opportunity to plan treatment during the best time frame.

This is especially true if the child has an under bite or cross bite, because early treatment can prevent more complex procedures as the child ages. If the jaw is out of position, the teeth and jaws will adapt to the misalignment and grow that way. With orthodontics, you can fix such problems in a preschooler usually in less than six months, but for teens it can take well over a year to treat the same problem and the results can be compromised.

Early treatment allows orthodontists to correct and guide the growth of your child’s jaw, helping the permanent teeth to come in straight, regulating the width of the upper and lower arches, creating more space for crowded teeth, avoiding the need for permanent tooth extractions later in life, compensating for thumb sucking and other habits, and helping to improve minor speech problems.

Here are a few things to look for that may mean your child needs orthodontics:

• Early or late loss of baby teeth.

• A hard time chewing or biting food.

• Mouth breathing.

• Finger or thumb sucking.

• Crowded, misplaced or blocked teeth.

• Jaws that pop or make sounds when opening and closing.

• Jaws and teeth that are not proportionate to the rest of the face.