When Should My Child First See the Orthodontist?
Orthodontic treatment is extremely important for children, but many parents may not know the best time to begin. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends children see an orthodontist by age seven. This may seem too young, but it’s actually best to visit an orthodontist when the child has both baby and permanent teeth. The orthodontist will be able to recognise spacing or bite issues even in their earliest stages and can intervene before any damage is done or more invasive treatment is needed.
If your child is younger than seven and you notice something that appears 'off', it’s not necessary to wait or get a recommendation from your dentist to get a first check-up. Similarly, if your child is eight or older, it is not too late for their first check-up with an orthodontist.
Possible Signs of Orthodontic Trouble
If you’re still not sure your child needs braces or other early orthodontic treatment, you can check for the following signs:
- Early or late loss of baby teeth
- Difficulty biting and chewing
- Protruding teeth, difficulty closing lips
- Crowded, crooked and blocked out teeth
- Irregular teeth spacing
- Mouth breathing and airway issues
- Upper and lower teeth do not meet when biting
- Grinding or clenching teeth
- Frequently biting cheek or roof of mouth
- Thumb and finger sucking or other oral habits
- Speech difficulties
- Facial asymmetry, chin off-centred
- Self-esteem concerns with how their teeth look.
These symptoms do not necessarily mean your child will need treatment, but the orthodontist will use their education, expertise and experience to create a customised plan to address all concerns.
What is the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?
Dentistry is a broad medical speciality that deals with oral health – specifically your teeth, gums, nerves in the mouth, and jaw. A dentist generally provides the following treatment: tooth extraction, filling cavities, repairing teeth, removing tooth decay, root canals, gum care, and the list goes on. Orthodontists are general dentists who undergo additional training in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. They provide a wide range of treatment options to straighten crooked teeth, fix bad bites and align the jaws correctly.
Since an orthodontist receives specialised training to diagnose and treat problems affecting the alignment of the teeth, they’re your best bet for correcting these issues. An orthodontist doesn’t just have more training than a dentist in this particular area of oral health, they also take part in ongoing training to stay up to date on the latest breakthroughs in oral healthcare. Not to mention, aligning teeth is what they do all day, every day!
It is important to remember that even if you are referred to an orthodontist, you should not stop seeing your general dentist. They are not one and the same, as your general dentist will still need to evaluate your overall oral health, during and after your treatment by an orthodontist. Your orthodontist is there to help correct alignment issues affecting your teeth, while your dentist is there to keep your teeth and gums healthy throughout your entire life.
What to Expect During Your First Visit with the Orthodontist
When you or your child first goes to the orthodontist, they will meet with a team member and have records collected, which include a panoramic x-ray and intraoral photos. After an oral exam and a review of the dental records, your orthodontist will let you know of any concerns or potential issues they see and let you know what the best course of action would be to correct them.
Your child’s first appointment is an excellent time for you to give the orthodontic team any medical or personal history about your child that could help determine the best course of treatment. Having your child visit the orthodontist early helps them get comfortable with the doctor and the team.
Four years of dental school + 3,700 hours of specialised orthodontic training = 100% focus on aligning teeth and jaws. - American Association of Orthodontists.
How Long Will Treatment Take?
When it comes to moving the teeth and jaws safely, it usually takes at least a year for early phase treatment and over a year for full phase treatment to get the teeth fully corrected, biting correctly, and in harmony with the jaws and lips. The technology and materials orthodontists use, and the time it takes to properly move teeth, make treatment an important investment in long-term dental health.