When you become a parent, there’s a whole world of things you suddenly need to know to keep your child healthy and happy. Much of this knowledge is widely available, with lots of it coming from doctors, teachers, and even other parents. For instance, you probably knew pretty early on that regular dental checkups are essential to giving your child a smile that looks great and feels good, too. But what you may not know is that early orthodontic evaluations are also an important part of maintaining your child’s oral health!
Many parents are surprised to learn that seeing an orthodontist early in childhood can help set the foundation for a lifetime of good oral health. It’s such a big deal that the American Association of Orthodontists actually recommends all children have an initial visit with an orthodontist by about the age of 7! Since most younger kids still have developing mouths and lots of baby teeth left, it’s normal to wonder why this recommendation exists. If you believe that an evaluation automatically equals treatment, it’s easy to understand that confusion. This isn’t always the case, however!
In fact, here at Thomas Kovacs Orthodontics, we tend to recommend immediate treatment for only a small fraction of the young children we see. But these early visits are still incredibly valuable, as they give us the chance to check for and diagnose any potential orthodontic issues. That includes any problems already present and those your child may be at risk for developing in the future.
This is possible thanks to the dental “landmarks” most children will have in place by the time they’re 7, including their permanent front teeth and first set of adult molars. An experienced orthodontist like Dr. Kovacs will use these to identify the way a child’s bite is likely to develop as they grow.
Do you have a child ready for their first orthodontic visit? Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from an early orthodontic evaluation!
What happens during an orthodontic evaluation?
The first visit to any orthodontist will focus on assessing the child’s oral health, looking for any issues that may warrant orthodontic treatment either now or in the future. Doing so gives us the opportunity to correct problems before they can develop into something more serious.
At Thomas Kovacs Orthodontics, Dr. Kovacs will check for evidence of any orthodontic issues during your child’s evaluation. We’ll discuss some of the most common ones below!
Most children should have at least four permanent molars and up to four permanent incisors by around the age of 7. Any more or less than this could indicate a problem with missing, crowding, or extra teeth.
Baby teeth are the placeholders for our permanent teeth, so they matter more than you might think! They also tend to fall out in a fairly specific order. If we see any significant deviation from that pattern, it may signal a developmental issue that requires further attention.
Crooked teeth can be harder to brush and floss effectively, and they’re also susceptible to uneven wear and tear. If these issues are left untreated over time, it can eventually affect both the shape and position of the surrounding gum tissue.
These problems can occur when a tooth is lost prematurely, where one has never developed, or if a child has teeth that are too small or spaced too far apart.
Front teeth that noticeably protrude are usually viewed as a cosmetic concern, but they can also increase the risk of potential injury to the permanent teeth. Speech issues can develop as a result of an overbite as well.
Underbites can be caused by problems with either the teeth or jaws. This usually involves the lower jaw growing too far forward, or the upper jaw growing deficiently.
A posterior crossbite can cause crowding, and may also cause the jaw to shift from one side to the other to fit the top and bottom teeth together. A narrow upper jaw can be associated with a narrow nasal passage sometimes, too.
Anterior Open Bites and Deep Bites
These bite problems occur vertically. In bites that are too deep, the top teeth completely cover the bottom ones when biting, which can indicate a small lower jaw. With an open bite, the overall bite doesn’t overlap enough.
What happens after an orthodontic evaluation?
One of the best things about early orthodontic evaluations is that they allow us to take a proactive approach to a child’s orthodontic care, instead of a reactive one. Providing children with the orthodontic care they need at the most optimal time is called Phase I treatment. We often initiate it to achieve results we may not be able to obtain once a child’s face and jaws have finished growing. This type of treatment encourages proper jaw development that will:
- help better accommodate the permanent teeth when they come in
- improve how the upper and lower jaws fit together
- and reduce the risk for damage due to untreated issues
Orthodontists will often use fixed or removable orthodontic appliances for a specified period of time during Phase 1 treatment. This can be done with one or both jaws, and helps correct poor jaw growth, create space for developing teeth, and facial muscles develop more normally. Once the initial phase is complete, the chosen appliance will be removed and a period of observation will follow. Patients may be given a retainer to keep the teeth stable during this time. The orthodontist will continue monitoring the child’s mouth every 4-6 months as well, just to ensure that things are proceeding as they should be.
Most Phase I patients will eventually need Phase II treatment to continue the stabilizing process. Braces or aligners will be used to help move the teeth into the final desired positions, completing the bite correction process and creating a beautiful new smile!
Give your child a healthy smile that lasts a lifetime with Thomas Kovacs Orthodontics
Here at Thomas Kovacs Orthodontics, we offer complimentary consultations for all our potential patients. If you bring your child in for a visit with Dr. Kovacs and no immediate treatment is necessary, we’ll invite you to visit our office every 6-12 months so we can continue monitoring their smile. This lets him keep up with their dental development and catch any emerging issues early on. These recall visits are also free of any charge.
If you’re in Billings, Miles City, or the surrounding areas and have a child ready for their first orthodontic visit, get in touch with us today to schedule a FREE evaluation! We’re here to help you take the first step towards a healthy smile that will last your child a lifetime.