The American Dental Association recommends that a child first visit the family dentist between the ages of 6 and 12 months, while the child’s primary (baby) teeth are erupting. It is an excellent time to lay a foundation for a lifetime of good dental habits. At this early age, the pattern of dental eruption can be seen, and the parent can be alerted to developmental changes that might occur. This allows the child’s first experiences with the dentist to be positive. That, in turn, begins to establish a good attitude toward dental care.

At the first checkup, you and your child probably will receive instructions on proper care of the teeth and advice on the importance of a proper diet. Thereafter, regular visits will be necessary to detect problems early and maintain good dental health.

When is the best time to begin orthodontics?
The American Association of Orthodontics recommends that a child’s first visit to an orthodontist take place when an orthodontic problem is first detected. Depending on the nature of the problem, whether it is a jaw growth problem, tooth problem, this first visit could take place as early as age 2 or 3, as the primary teeth erupt. Whether or not an orthodontic problem is detected, however, a child should visit an orthodontist for a checkup no later than age 7. This may surprise you because orthodontic treatment usually is associated with adolescences. Although treatment will not necessarily begin at this early age, an examination is important to ensure maximum dental health for your child.

What are the benefits of early orthodontic evaluation?
Early evaluation provides both timely detection of problems and greater opportunity for more effective treatment. Prudent intervention guides growth and development, preventing serious problems later. When orthodontic intervention is not necessary, an orthodontist can carefully monitor growth and development and begin treatment when it is ideal.

Why is age 7 considered the optimal time for screening?
By the age of 7, the first adult molars erupt, establishing the back bite. During this time, an orthodontist can evaluate front-to-back and side-to-side tooth relationships. For example, the presence of erupting incisors can indicate possible overbite, open bite, crowding or gummy smiles. Timely screening increases the chances for an incredible smile.

The following early warning signs may indicate that your child should have an orthodontic examination:

  • Early or late loss of teeth
  • Difficulty in chewing or biting
  • Mouth breathing
  • Finger sucking or other oral habits
  • Crowding, misplaced or blocked-out teeth
  • Jaws that shift or make sounds
  • Speech difficulty
  • Biting the cheek or into the roof of the mouth
  • Protruding teeth
  • Teeth that meet in an abnormal manner or don’t meet at all
  • Facial imbalance
  • Jaws that protrude or retrude
  • Grinding or clenching of the teeth

An orthodontic examination is advisable any time a particular problem is noted by the parent, family dentist or child’s physician.

The Importance of Treatment
Every parent wants his or her child to have a beautiful smile—and every child should have a healthy smile with properly functioning teeth. The orthodontist’s goal is to achieve both for the patient.

Untreated malocclusions may contribute to conditions that may cause tooth decay, gum disease, bone destruction, , loss of teeth, mouth breathing and jaw joint problems. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is truly applicable here.

In addition, uncorrected problems can adversely affect a child’s speech, general health and self esteem.

A child’s self confidence almost always increases when his or her smile is improved. This also has an impact on those around the child—parents, siblings, teachers, and other children. Successful treatment can lead to greater success in all areas of the child’s life. In short, the value of a beautiful, healthy smile should not be underestimated.