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Most orthodontic treatment starts in the teen years when all permanent teeth have come in, and the results are more predictable. However, some young children need early intervention or Phase One treatment. This evaluation doesn’t necessarily mean orthodontics are needed right away. However, monitoring growth patterns can indicate the best opportunity to start treatment to get the best results. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that your child has an initial screening at the age of seven, with formal orthodontics beginning around age nine.
Some cases may be a matter of genetics or inherited orthodontic issues such as crowded teeth, excessive spacing, bad bites, or protruding teeth. Other cases may be due to injury, early or late loss of baby teeth, or habits like thumb sucking.
Some issues are easy to diagnose, and some developmental issues can correct themselves as children grow into their preteen years. It is important to have a professional determine if your child’s oral development is on track or if they need intervention. Some of the issues a dentist may evaluate include:
The goal of early treatment is to help your child’s jaw to develop correctly, so there is plenty of room for their permanent. Partial braces, palatal expansion, space maintainers, or retainers can all be used to create more space and improve bone growth. These early intervention methods can help eliminate the need for corrective surgery later on and make regular orthodontic procedures shorter and more effective.
Phase one treatment typically lasts about 10-14 months. Once it is complete, your child will be fitted with a retainer to keep everything in place until it is time to move on to phase two, then the next phase will begin around age 11 or older, after all, permanent teeth have erupted.
Once most of your child’s permanent teeth have erupted (around age 11 or older), phase two can begin. Most cases that require phase one treatment will also require a phase two. The second phase usually requires full braces or clear aligners and can begin once the 12-year molars are close to erupting. The braces or aligners will need to be carefully monitored for about 18-24 months. After this treatment is complete, a retainer will still need to be worn every night to prevent teeth from moving back to their original position.
Orthodontics, like most other dental and medical services are best used as a preventive measure. Beginning orthodontic treatment early can prevent the development of problems for your child in later years and can stave off costly restorative and reconstructive procedures.
Early treatment may not apply to all orthodontic problems, but it can help in certain cases. Braces have improved dramatically over the past couple of decades, making them more comfortable and more effective. With proper planning, a child who has early orthodontics may enjoy better self-confidence, optimal tooth and bite function, improved tooth and jaw alignment, and more stable results.