When you think kids and orthodontists, you think braces. If so, you’re thinking about orthodontists too late.
About the time they start school. By 7 years old, some molars have begun to show and baby teeth are dropping out. So things are shifting in the mouth and that’s when kids should be seen by an orthodontist to have their bite evaluated. “We’re looking for habits, like thumb sucking or mouth breathing in asthma sufferers, and for protrusive teeth or bad bite alignment,” says Stephanie B. Whitehead, DMD, MS, an orthodontist since 1988 in Birmingham.
The bones are in motion. “Certain things correct more easily while children’s bones are still forming,” says Dr. Whitehead. “It lessens the severity of the correction later if you catch some problems early.” For instance, a child who tongue thrusts while swallowing can drastically deform their tooth alignment and form speech impediments.
Parents! Listen to this. “I think what most parents ignore about their children’s teeth is the potential for skeletal problems,” says Dr. Whitehead. “If you catch a bite problem in a girl by age 10 or 11, before her growth spurt, you have a much better chance of correcting it permanently and without surgery, than if you wait until 13, when most girls are done growing.” The CDC has growth charts here.
It’s free! Most orthodontists don’t charge for that initial assessment visit. “We want to get a baseline for the child,” says Dr. Whitehead. “So isn’t it better to eliminate any possibility that there’s a problem forming rather than assume it’s all normal and then face serious corrections in the future?”
They’re wrong about orthodontists. Dr. Whitehead says the one piece of advice she wishes parents would hear is that “orthodontists are more about perfecting the bite of their child for functional purposes rather than about their pretty smile.”
I feel good. “Another reason to bring your children in early to see an orthodontist is for their self-confidence,” says Dr. Whitehead. “If they’re very embarrassed about their teeth, it can affect their whole psyche.” Protruding teeth, funny chewing habits, and gaps will mean teasing. A better bite early on means another area of themselves you’ve given your child to feel good about. And a healthy, confident child is what every parent strives for.
by Jane Ehrhardt