When we tell parents that their children should first visit an orthodontist at the age of seven, they are sometimes incredulous. “That young?” they say. “But they are still losing their baby teeth!”
Yes, your child’s mouth is still developing, and that’s sort of the point. If you wait until all of a person’s permanent teeth are in and their jaw and bite have settled into place, orthodontic adjustments will likely be more difficult and arduous. Think of it as a journey on sailboat. If you make an effort to be sure that the winds are taking you in the right direction at the beginning of the trip, you won’t have to backtrack far to get to your destination. Age seven is a time when that journey begins, because we can start see how the adult mouth is taking shape and we can steer its development into a healthy bite and straight teeth.
That’s not to say we are likely to recommend putting braces on the teeth of a seven-year-old. When braces are necessary, their wearing can only begin after permanent teeth have come in (notwithstanding late bloomers like wisdom teeth). However, the idea is to begin orthodontic monitoring in the middle of childhood when jaw bones are still at their most malleable. It can forestall serious problems in the future and make corrective treatment down the road simpler and quicker.
By age seven, we can start noticing:
- A narrow jaw – If a child’s jaw is too narrow for all the permanent teeth coming in, it will result in crowded, overlapping and crooked teeth. We can widen arches to create space for teeth to come in.
- The number of teeth coming in – Adults will typically have 32 teeth grow in when their mouths are finished developing, but sometimes there are issues with this number. Too few teeth will cause spacing issues and too many will cause crowding. The number of teeth coming in can be determined at a young age.
- Crooked teeth – We can start making corrections to crooked teeth at a young age to ensure even wear and improve appearance. For front teeth that stick out, full corrections have to wait until adolescence but we can start to mitigate a severe problem.
- Bad bites – Bad bites, medically known as malocclusions, include underbites, overbites, open bites, and crossbites. Some of these problems can start being corrected with appliances early. Some are a result of bad habits that we can nip in the bud. Others will need to wait until further growth before they can be definitively fixed, but even in those cases, it’s best if we get an early head start.
As a parent, you may have been hoping to put off orthodontic work for your child until they become a teenager, and indeed braces are not likely to be needed on a seven-year-old. However, a head start at a young age will likely make any orthodontic corrections take less time and progress more efficiently.