Does My Child Need Early Orthodontics?

Orthodontic treatments are most commonly associated with pre-teens and teenagers. However, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends children receive their first orthodontic check-up around the age of seven. In cases where obvious irregularities are noted, treatment may be sought at an earlier age.

Most orthodontists agree that there is an optimal time for treating malocclusions (bad bites) and irregularities in the face and jaw. While an early orthodontic check-up does not mean that treatment will begin immediately, or even that it will become necessary, some irregularities are more easily corrected before jaw growth is complete, making it imperative to have problems detected early.    

Orthodontic treatment is primarily used to prevent and correct “bite” irregularities.  Several factors may contribute to such irregularities, including genetic factors, the early loss of primary (baby) teeth, and damaging oral habits (such as thumb sucking and developmental problems). Orthodontic irregularities may be present at birth or develop during toddlerhood or early childhood.  Crooked teeth hamper self-esteem and make good oral homecare difficult, whereas straight teeth help minimize the risk of tooth decay and childhood periodontal disease.

During biannual preventative visits, your dentist is able to utilize many diagnostic tools to monitor orthodontic irregularities and, if necessary, implement early intervention strategies.  

Irregularities in Pediatric Dental Development

Orthodontic problems can sometimes be invisible to the untrained eye. An orthodontist is highly skilled at detecting the smallest clues of irregularities and misalignment. Irregularities are most often a result of genetic factors, but can be exacerbated by poor nutrition, poor oral hygiene and thumb sucking.

There is no substitute for an orthodontic examination, but here are some common signs that irregularity may become a possibility:

  • Finger or thumb sucking
  • Chewing or biting problems
  • Teeth that do not meet or that meet irregularly
  • Disproportionate jaws
  • Clicking or shifting jaws
  • Later or earlier loss of baby teeth than normal

Why does early orthodontic treatment make sense?

Some children display early signs of minor orthodontic irregularities.  In such cases, your dentist might choose to monitor the situation over time without providing intervention.  However, for children who display severe orthodontic irregularities, early orthodontic treatment can provide many benefits, including:

  • Enhanced self-confidence and aesthetic appearance
  • Increased likelihood of proper jaw growth
  • Increased  likelihood of properly aligned and spaced adult teeth
  • Reduced risk of bruxing (grinding of teeth)
  • Reduced risk of childhood cavities, periodontal disease, and tooth decay
  • Reduced risk of impacted adult teeth
  • Reduced risk of protracted orthodontic treatments in later years
  • Reduced risk of speech problems
  • Reduced risk of tooth, gum, and jawbone injury

Types of Early Orthodontic Intervention

The goal of early intervention and treatment is to ensure that more serious problems do not develop in the future. If an irregularity is allowed to progress, there is a chance that later treatment will be more complicated. Your oral health professional can improve the appearance of your child’s teeth and jaw, guide jaw growth, and provide advice and support on correcting poor oral habits.

Early intervention tends to fall into three main categories: preventive, interceptive and comprehensive. Here is a brief overview of each type of treatment to better exemplify how complicated problems can be avoided:

Preventive Treatments

The goal of preventive treatment is to avoid the development of malocclusion in a normally developing mouth. Your dental professional may remove a baby tooth to create space for the corresponding adult tooth to erupt. Conversely, if a baby tooth has been lost too early, a space retainer appliance will hold that space for the corresponding adult tooth.

Interceptive Treatments

Interceptive treatments aim to reduce the complexity of a developing problem and eliminate the cause where possible. The ideal candidate for interceptive treatment usually has a mixture of adult and baby teeth. Your dental provider is able to alter the size of the teeth, remove longstanding baby teeth and create space for erupting adult teeth.

Comprehensive Treatments

Comprehensive treatments are commonly used to correct growth irregularities. When the teeth are completely misaligned or the jaws are functioning poorly, orthodontic treatment may be combined with jaw surgery, tooth extractions or restorative surgery. Comprehensive treatment can begin prior to the loss of baby teeth, with several phases of such treatment required to optimize benefits.

If you have any questions or concerns about early orthodontic treatment, please contact your dental care provider.


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Jenna L. Stover, DDS, & Haleigh A. Bass, DMD,
Susan I. Stover, DDS, Douglas L. Stover, DDS

Gastonia dentists, Susan Stover, DDS, Doug Stover, DDS and Jenna Stover, DDS, are dental professionals dedicated to general, family, and cosmetic dentistry with services including dental exams, dental makeovers, teeth whitening, veneers, crowns, x-rays, cleanings, and more. Please call our dentists in Gastonia, NC to schedule your next appointment.


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