Early Orthodontics

Overview

Orthodontic treatment in young children is known as interceptive orthodontics, and it can begin as early as age 6 or 7. At this age, teeth are still developing and the jaw is still growing. That means certain conditions, such as crowding, may be easier to address.

It is important to note that early treatment does not apply to all orthodontic problems; however, it may help in certain cases. Two conditions that require early intervention are crossbites and protruding front teeth. A crossbite can cause the jaws to grow unevenly. Front teeth that stick out may be fractured or injured in an accident, such as a fall.

Benefits

Early intervention takes advantage of the fact that a child's jaw is still growing. Early treatment also may be useful when the dental arches and jaws are not in the correct position. Functional appliances may fix or improve these problems. More treatment usually is needed later on, but it may be shorter and less involved.

Kids braces have improved a lot in the past couple of decades. Technology has made them more comfortable and more attractive than the braces most parents remember wearing. They’re also more affordable, meaning many more children have them.

Care

Good dental hygiene is crucial for kids with braces and other dental appliances. Three to four times per day, have your child rinse with water to loosen food that might be caught in the braces, then brush thoroughly. Each night before bed, have your child floss their teeth and then rinse with a fluoride rinse to help keep the teeth strong and healthy.

Once per day, you should also help your child floss, which helps loosen food debris and plaque at and under the gum line that would otherwise harden into tartar. It can also help reach the nooks and crannies in the teeth that might be difficult to reach with a toothbrush. Flossing with braces can be difficult, but you can use many options to help ensure the gums stay healthy. Talk to your child’s orthodontist or dentist for oral care recommendations.

Every six months, take your child to the dentist for a cleaning and a checkup. The dentist can point out areas that need more attention, and help make sure you're keeping your child’s teeth healthy and clean in and around the braces. Often, your dentist or hygienist can suggest helpful tools or ideas to keep your child's teeth healthy while the braces are on.

Procedure

Although treatment plans are customized for each patient, most wear their braces from one to three years, depending on the oral care issues that need correcting. This is followed by a period of wearing a "retainer," which holds teeth in their new positions. Although a little discomfort is expected during treatment, today's braces are more comfortable than ever before.

A palatal expander may be used to expand the child's upper dental arch so there is more room for teeth to grow in, thus reducing crowding in the mouth. The procedure involves the installation of the appliance. It consists of two pieces of plastic attached to both sides of the upper molars, and an expansion screw. When the expansion screw is turned, the device pushes the two sides away from each other, thus gradually widening the jaw and making room for the child’s adult teeth. Once the arch is the proper size, there's a better chance that the adult teeth will come in in a better position.

Space maintainers are another example of an early intervention technique. When a child looses a tooth prematurely, as a result of decay or injury, the other teeth can shift to fill the vacant space. As a preventative measure, a dentist can place a space maintainer to hold the space until the permanent tooth comes in. Space maintainers can be a band or a temporary crown, which is attached to the vacant space. When the permanent tooth begins to emerge the dentist will remove the space maintainer. This procedure may eliminate the need for further or more intensive orthodontics in the future.

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