At Wagner Dental, we recommend parents schedule their child’s first visit to an orthodontist before their 7th birthday—but we’re not the only ones to advise what may seem like an early visit. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends taking your child at the first sign of an orthodontic problem, or for a general examination around the age of 7, when your child will have a combination of primary (baby) teeth and permanent teeth.
Although it might sound like premature alarmism to classify developing teeth and jaws as problematic, there are things to look out for, and the reasons aren’t limited to straight teeth being more aesthetically pleasing. In fact, straight teeth aren’t a guarantee against dental problems; rather, they tend to suggest proper bite and jaw alignment and make for easier hygiene routines, which are essential for decay and gum disease prevention.
With that being said, signs that a visit to an orthodontist may be beneficial include:
The truth is, even the healthiest routines may not prevent the need for orthodontic care, but there are definitely habits that can make it less likely. Taking good care of baby teeth can ensure they don’t leave your child’s mouth too soon. A common misconception is that baby teeth aren’t important because they’re not your child’s permanent set, but they’re necessary not just for maintaining a healthy diet (the stronger your teeth, the more you can chew without issue) and clearer speech—they save space for your child’s permanent teeth.
When a baby tooth is lost too soon, your child’s permanent teeth may change direction underneath their gums, leaving less room for their surrounding teeth to come through without crowding. And of course, when we look at the culprits of early tooth loss, they’re things you want your child to avoid—tooth decay and gum disease. These infections can be painful and cause them to miss school and playtime, and they can hurt their self-confidence.
To give them the best chance at keeping their baby teeth strong and healthy until they loosen on their own schedule, softly massage their gums with a damp rag before their teeth even arrive. This will help when they teethe and prepare them for the next stage of oral hygiene. When your child’s first tooth pokes through, use a soft-bristled baby toothbrush (or fingerbrush) and an amount of fluoride-free toothpaste (until they can spit instead of swallowing the paste) equal to the size of a grain of rice to gently brush them clean at least twice a day. When more teeth make their entrance and they start to touch, introduce floss.
You’ll want to ensure your child doesn’t rely on bottles, pacifiers, or thumb sucking past the age of two. Their prolonged use could lead to protruding teeth, causing misshapen bone and an open bite. An open bite can lead to TMJ (temporomandibular joint) dysfunction and even sleep disorders. Another habit that can damage teeth and bites is nail biting. The frequent gnashing of teeth can cause chips in the enamel and an inflamed TMJ.
We know that orthodontic treatment isn’t the most fun thing for a child to experience, and that it can complicate their developing oral hygiene routines. However, early intervention is recommended to create an oral environment that permanent teeth will thrive in, not to improve the appearance of your child’s smile—that’s just the benefit of repositioning their bite and teeth to make it easier for them to chew, speak, and have optimal oral health throughout their adolescence and then adulthood.