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Early Orthodontic Treatment: Is it Early or Optimal?

Posted in Children, Phase 1 Treatment, Professional Education

What is considered early orthodontic treatment? Why is it ideal to detect developmental and orthodontic issues in children when they are young as opposed to entering their teen years? Our Calgary orthodontists explain why early intervention is optimal for most kids.

What is early orthodontic intervention?

About 60% of facial development takes place for children before they reach 4 years old. By age 12, that number increases to 90%. This makes early childhood (ages 5 to 11) a critical time for development. So important, in fact, that the Canadian Association of Orthodontists recommends that every child see an orthodontist before age 7 for an initial assessment and early orthodontic intervention, if required.

Traditionally, most clinicians and dental professionals believed in waiting for all permanent teeth to erupt before looking at ways to correct orthodontic problems. However, an early orthodontic examination (when both baby and permanent teeth are in the mouth) allows us to detect and intercept problems before they develop into larger, long-term issues that may be more difficult and costly to correct.

What are the benefits of early orthodontic evaluation? 

At myORTHODONTIST, we take a 2-Phase approach to orthodontic treatment. When orthodontists are able to assess children, detect any orthodontic issues and create a treatment plan early, we may be able to address the root cause of the problem and guide appropriate jaw development. 

Phase 1 treatment takes place when children are between 5 and 11 years of age and is a preventive approach with the goal of making Phase 2 treatment (during the teenage years) shorter and less invasive.

Depending on specific case circumstances, early assessment and treatment can also lead to better outcomes and help ensure maximum dental and facial development for the patient. It can make a difference when it comes to treatment costs, since patients may need more treatment for longer if they wait until their teenage years to be assessed. 

By age 7, eruption of first adult molars occurs and establishes the back bite. An orthodontist will be able to assess the relationships of front-to-back and side-to-side teeth. Depending on how the incisors erupt, this might point to a potential open bite, overbite, crowding or gummy smile. With timely evaluation, we are more likely to be able to address issues and help the patient and family achieve their goals for their smile.

Why is early orthodontic treatment sometimes needed?

With early evaluation and detection of orthodontic issues, we can custom plan early interceptive treatment to achieve results such as:

  • Leaving room for emerging teeth that would otherwise be crowded
  • Guiding jaw growth to create facial symmetry
  • Reducing treatment time with braces later in development
  • Leaving space for teeth that have not erupted yet
  • Reducing risk of injury or trauma to protruding front teeth
  • Helping psychological development, self-esteem related to appearance
  • Reducing risk that permanent teeth will need to be extracted later
  • Reducing or eliminating the need for jaw surgery
  • Correcting oral habits harmful to orthodontic health (thumb sucking, etc.)
  • Minimizing the need for more extensive, costly procedures later
  • Reducing or eliminating issues with speech or swallowing
  • Examine and treated breathing, snoring, and other airway issues

In addition to the points above, some treatments are not possible once bone growth and development have stopped. This is why we advocate for early evaluation and orthodontic treatment.

What are early orthodontic treatment options?

The goals of early treatment may be to improve the width of dental arches and address other conditions such as swallowing or chewing issues, or correct habits such as thumbsucking. Invisalign First or braces are often used to accomplish these objectives.

Is my patient a candidate for early orthodontic treatment?

Orthodontic treatment can help create healthier smiles starting when children are young. We are committed to continuing the quality of care that has started with you, and we take your trust in us as our responsibility. If you have noticed any of the above issues in your patient, please feel free to refer them to us for an initial assessment and potential early orthodontic treatment.

Do you have a patient you'd like to refer for early orthodontic evaluation? We welcome referrals from dentists and general practitioners. Send us a referral today by phone or email.

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