When Should My Child First See an Orthodontist? Early Orthodontic Treatment Guidelines

The well-known phrase, “timing is everything” is true when it comes to music, sports and the stock market, but how crucial is the timing of orthodontic treatment? While there are many orthodontic problems that orthodontists agree are best treated after all permanent teeth have come in, early treatment can be in a patient’s best interest if their problem is one that could become more serious over time if left untreated or while movement is optimized before the jaw has finished growing.  “Early” or “interceptive” treatment, means treatment that is performed while some baby teeth are still present and the palate and jaws are still growing.  For some children, this early treatment can be very beneficial, avoiding more invasive and difficult treatments later on.

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that your child’s first check-up with an orthodontist be no later than age 7.  By then, your child has enough permanent teeth for an orthodontist to evaluate the developing teeth and the jaws but early enough to utilize the active growing that is still taking place.

There are generally three outcomes of an initial check-up:

    • Early treatment is unnecessary.
    • Periodic checks may be recommended while the face and jaws continue to grow waiting for the ideal timing for treatment.
    • There is a problem that can most effectively be treated with early treatment.

 The goal of early treatment is to intercept any developing problems, eliminate the causes, guide the growth of facial and jaw bones, and provide adequate space for incoming permanent teeth. A patient may require a second phase of treatment after all permanent teeth have come in to move those teeth into their best positions. 

Some problems orthodontists may recommend treating early include:

    • Underbites – when the lower front teeth are ahead of the upper front teeth
    • Crossbites – when the jaw shifts to one side
    • Very crowded teeth
    • Excessively spaced teeth
    • Extra or missing teeth
    • Teeth that meet abnormally, or don’t meet at all
    • Thumb-, finger-, or pacifier- sucking that is affecting the teeth or jaw growth

Sometimes patients come in as teenagers or young adults and need surgery or other invasive treatments to fix what could have easily been fixed with early treatment at a younger age. 

At Roth Orthodontics consultations are always free, so schedule an appointment for your child around age 7 or so to make sure everything is developing as expected.  Bring them in sooner as recommended by their dentist or if you have concerns. Dr. Roth himself had one of his three children who needed early treatment, followed by phase two treatment later on.  His other two children were treated after their permanent teeth had all come in.  There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the best time to start treatment.