The first loose tooth is a special childhood moment. It signals the onset of future physical developments and shows that your child is growing in a healthy way. Who doesn’t remember waiting for a tooth to fall out so that the Tooth Fairy would come? For orthodontists, the loss of baby teeth has a different kind of significance. It indicates that your child might be ready for some early treatment. At Central Texas Orthodontics in Austin, TX, we provide orthodontics for children when it is most beneficial.
Orthodontics for Children
When kids receive braces or other forms of orthodontic care, this is referred to as early treatment, interceptive orthodontics, or Phase 1 treatment. It is usually conducted between the ages of six and nine. During this time, children have a mixture of adult and baby teeth. The eruption of some adult teeth allows orthodontists to assess how the jaw and teeth are developing.
Why Do Some Children Need Early Treatment?
Some parents are skeptical about orthodontics for children. There is an unfortunate belief that because baby teeth eventually fall out, they are not important. This could not be further from the truth. Baby teeth provide pathways that the adult teeth will eventually follow. While not all children need early treatment, some can benefit from it enormously. It can prevent future orthodontic problems, reduce the need for extractions, and lower the overall cost of your child’s orthodontic care.
Additionally, some children have severely misaligned teeth that affect the quality of their lives. For them, early treatment has immediate advantages. Such orthodontic problems can cause speech impediments, trouble breathing, and difficulty chewing. Early treatment can help solve these problems so that your child can feel and function better as soon as possible.
What Problems Can Be Addressed With Early Treatment?
Early treatment can help improve a range of problems. The most common include:
- Misaligned teeth
- Gaps between the teeth
- Protruding teeth
- Jaw development issues
What Happens During Early Treatment
Early treatment begins with an examination. The American Association of Orthodontists suggests that parents bring their child in to be evaluated at the age of seven. During the evaluation, your orthodontist will determine whether or not early treatment is necessary. If it is, your child will receive care that is customized for his or her needs. This might include braces, a retainer, or other special appliances.
Early treatment usually lasts 16 to 21 months. Most children who receive orthodontic care need full braces when they are teenagers. However, the scope of their treatment in adolescence will be greatly reduced. After early treatment, most orthodontists recommend a “resting period” of a few years.
Common Early Intervention Treatments for Children
Full braces refer to braces that treat all of the teeth. Braces are a form of orthodontic care that can address many problems, including severe cases, with precision and versatility. The system consists of metal brackets and archwires. The brackets are applied to the teeth with dental glue. Throughout the treatment, the archwires apply pressure gently and consistently. As a result, the teeth slowly slide along the archwire and into their new positions.
Braces are often part of early treatment because they are well suited for children and because they can address a wide scope of needs. They are made of strong material (usually stainless steel) and don’t interfere with playtime. They are also a relatively inexpensive orthodontic option. The great news for kids is that braces aren’t as cumbersome as they used to be. Far from the “metal mouths” producing contraptions of the past, modern braces are smaller and more comfortable. Many children look forward to choosing different colors for the rubber bands.
Limited Phase Braces
When a child does not need a full set of braces, his or her orthodontist may recommend treatment for a few select teeth. This kind of treatment is referred to as a limited phase of braces.
Retainers are devices that are worn inside the mouth. Most commonly, they are used to retain the straight alignment your child achieved by having braces. He or she can wear the retainer for a certain length of time, as recommended by an orthodontist, to make sure the teeth don’t slip back into their original positions.
Retainers are also used to correct small orthodontic issues that don’t require braces. Usually, this involves closing a gap. Some children have naturally occurring gaps that need to be addressed. Others have had extractions that need to be closed.
If your child’s orthodontist determines that your child has a gap between certain teeth that needs to be preserved for the eruption of future teeth, he or she might recommend a space maintainer. This custom-made device will prevent the surrounding teeth from closing in on the space.
Types of Space Maintainers
Some types of space maintainers can be removed. They are usually made from acrylic and can sometimes be made to resemble a natural tooth. Other types of space maintainers are fixed. These include the crown and loop and the distal shoe, both of which fit onto the teeth and use metal pieces to preserve the space inside the mouth.
A palate that is too small is one of the most common reasons children need early treatment. In addition to preventing the adult teeth from erupting in good alignment, problems with the palate can express themselves as crossbites and other jaw issues. These problems are best addressed during childhood when the bones are mailable and responsive to treatment. The purpose of a palate expander is to widen the space into which adult teeth can develop.
Types of Palate Expanders
Children who need this kind of treatment are usually fitted with a Rapid Palatal Expander (RPE). This device consists of two bands that are attached to the upper back molars. There are two phases to the treatment: active and passive.
During the active phase, a screw between the two bands is turned once every day to expand the device. This phase takes about two weeks. During the passive phase, the RPE stays in the child’s mouth to prevent the palate from reverting to its original width. For this kind of care, orthodontists provide detailed instructions to the parents.
Functional appliances include a variety of devices that are used to address severe bite problems. Unlike braces, they do not focus on repositioning the teeth. Rather, their purpose is to improve the alignment of the lower jaw by working with the way it is inclined to grow naturally. Some functional appliances are fixed in the mouth, while others can be removed.
A bionator is a device that can be used to bring a child’s jaw forward. It consists of two attached parts, both made of acrylic. One sits behind the front teeth and the other rests on the lower teeth. Like a retainer, this device can be removed.
Twin Block Appliances
The twin block appliance is similar to the bionator and is used for the same purpose: to bring the lower jaw forward. The main difference is that it comes in two separate pieces while the two parts of a bionator are joined. Twin block appliances can be removable or fixed and can be customized to accommodate the individual needs of your child.
Herbst appliances bring the lower jaw forward via a tube and rod that connect the top teeth to the bottom teeth. This device is affixed to the back molars where it is unnoticeable. Unlike some other functional appliances, it stays in your child’s mouth for the entire duration of the treatment.
While headgear is no longer a common aspect of orthodontics for children, it deserves an honorable mention because it is still used in some situations. As its name implies, headgear is worn outside the mouth, around the head. It usually serves to correct malocclusion, or jaw alignment problems. These include overbites and underbites. Some children get headgear and braces at the same time.
How Headgear Is Used
The chances of your child needing headgear are slim, and if they do, the good news is that modern headgear is usually worn mostly at night. During sleep, children produce growth hormone, and for this reason, the sleeping hours provide the best time for orthodontic devices to do their work. Headgear can be removed for meals and snacks.
The Importance of Orthodontics for Children
Having straight teeth and proper jaw alignment are extremely important for all people. Sometimes, the best time to address certain issues is during childhood.
Good orthodontic care can improve the functioning of the teeth and promote good hygiene. Straight teeth are easier to brush and less likely to contribute to the development of gum disease and other problems. People with straighter teeth experience less difficulty chewing, fewer injuries to the inside of their mouths, fewer speech impediments, and, in some cases, easier breathing. Correct jaw alignment can even prevent the onset of sleep apnea and other conditions.
Your child’s self-esteem will be important throughout his or her life. A beautiful, healthy smile is a source of pride and confidence. Your child should love smiling for photos and never feel like hiding their teeth. Orthodontic care is a wonderful gift to give a child because it comes with a lifetime of benefits.
Schedule a Consultation
If your child is over the age of seven or has lost some baby teeth, come into our office together for a consultation. We would be happy to do an initial assessment and tell you, in person, how our practice can provide expert orthodontic care for your family.
A consultation is a great time to review the specific orthodontic treatments that might benefit your child. You can ask questions and about the different options and get a good understanding of how orthodontics can be a beneficial part of your child’s life going forward.
Give Your Child a Lifetime of Good Orthodontic Health
Orthodontics for children is all about improving their health and confidence. Many times in life, it pays to act early. For many children, the period just after the eruption of the first adult teeth is the ideal time to treat certain issues pertaining to alignment. These children can avoid many severe problems later in life by getting early treatment, and reducing the scope of teenage and adult treatments will also lower costs later. Best of all, your child will gain straight, beautiful teeth, which are a lifelong asset.
Contact Central Texas Orthodontics in Austin, TX for more information on orthodontics for children. Providing the highest level of orthodontic care for your entire family is our mission.