It’s pretty rare these days to find someone who hasn’t lived through the brace-face phase. Braces are almost a rite of passage on the way to a beautiful smile, but they’re also an important part of your child’s long-term dental and physical health.
When should your child see the orthodontist? Here are 7 signs you may want to make an ortho appointment!
1. Your Child Has Habits That Could Affect Their Teeth.
Many kids comfort themselves with habits developed since they were babies. That may include thumb sucking, finger sucking, using a pacifier past the age of 3, or even sucking on stuffed animals or blankets.
While the image of a kiddo with their binky or sleeping with a thumb in their mouth is super cute, these habits can put pressure on the developing hard palate and teeth, pushing them out of alignment.
Self-soothing habits are very hard to break. Even if you’re able to wean your child off these habits for the most part, they may unconsciously return while your little one is sleeping or feeling anxious or upset.
Thumb sucking, finger sucking, prolonged pacifier use, and other similar habits may call for early orthodontic intervention. An orthodontist may be able to help your child break their habits or correct misalignments before they become serious problems.
2. Your Child’s Teeth Are Not Erupting When They Should.
Every kiddo is different when it comes to teeth. There are early bloomers, late bloomers, and even some that make up their own order for tooth eruption.
However, there are some situations when unusual tooth eruption patterns may warrant a visit to the orthodontist to rule out complications that may need intervention.
Sometimes teeth fall out (or get knocked out) earlier than they should, allowing surrounding teeth to shift into the open space before the permanent tooth has a chance to erupt. In these situations, your child may need a space maintainer or other treatment to ensure the permanent teeth can come in when they’re ready.
On the other hand, baby teeth that don’t fall out fast enough can push erupting permanent teeth out of their correct position.
If you suspect your child’s baby teeth may be causing trouble, ask your dentist for advice!
3. Your Child Is Struggling with a Speech Impediment.
There are several speech difficulties that can be improved with dental and orthodontic treatments. Tight tissue can limit proper movement of the tongue and lips and may need to be loosened.
The shape of the palate and positions of the teeth both play important roles in the formation of many sounds important to clear speech. Orthodontic treatment can play a crucial role in improving some speech impediments.
Orthodontics can be paired with speech therapy, myofunctional therapy, and other interventions to retrain the tongue and lips to the improved positions of the oral anatomy for ideal outcomes.
4. Your Child Has Trouble Eating, Chewing, or Swallowing.
When the teeth don’t meet properly, chewing and biting can become very challenging. There are many reasons your child’s teeth may not match up in a perfect bite. In fact, it’s very rare that they do without help!
Again, thumb sucking, finger sucking, or pacifier use may come into play and create what’s called an open bite, where the front teeth cannot touch even when your child bites down all the way. Similarly, a tongue thrust—an unconscious habit of pushing the tongue forward when swallowing or speaking, or as a default relaxed position—can push the teeth out of alignment and create an open bite.
Large spaces, rotations, and teeth erupting far from their ideal positions can all factor into eating and swallowing difficulties as well. An orthodontist may be able to correct many of these issues and create a more harmonious, functional bite.
5. Your Child Breathes Through Their Mouth.
Many kids breathe through their mouths. Unfortunately, mouth breathing can be a sign of orthodontic problems, and can even be the cause!
Snoring and mouth breathing while asleep both warrant attention from your pediatrician and dentist!
Breathing through the nose is important in maintaining good muscle tone in the airway. The slightly increased resistance of breathing through the nose improves elasticity in the lungs and keeps the upper airway strong.
If your child always or nearly always breathes through their mouth, it can weaken the muscles of the airway. It can also lead to problems in the formation of the palate and misalignment in the teeth.
Mouth breathing in children has been associated with slower-than-normal growth, difficulty concentrating, irritability, difficulty sleeping at night, and a range of other difficulties.
Orthodontic intervention can help decrease mouth breathing by expanding the palate, which in turn helps to open the sinus and make nose breathing easier.
6. Your Child’s Teeth Are Crowded, Crooked, or Not Lining Up.
Sometimes teeth just come in funny. Many times, this is due to genetics. If you had crooked, spaced, or misaligned teeth as a kid, it’s very likely your child will have similar problems.
It’s normal for baby teeth to have gaps. In fact, gaps between baby teeth are necessary to ensure the permanent teeth have enough space to come in properly. However, it’s always a good idea to check in with your child’s regular dentist about whether they see any alignment problems developing, and when they recommend your child see the orthodontist.
It’s common practice now to split orthodontic treatment into two phases. An early phase around age 6 can help the palate and jaw form properly and make phase 2 much easier and more successful later in childhood.
7. It’s Just Time!
Most orthodontists recommend checking in around 7 years old regardless of whether you’ve noticed issues with your child’s teeth or bite. They will likely take a panoramic image and perform a comprehensive exam to create the best treatment plan to ensure your child’s ideal outcomes.
Remember that orthodontic treatment isn’t just about creating a beautiful smile. Well-aligned teeth stay healthier longer. A good bite prevents wear and damage such as cracks and chips, as well as decreasing strain on the jaw joint that can lead to TMJ disorder.
And, as mentioned earlier, orthodontics could even improve your child’s breathing and sleep and prevent serious health issues!
Dr. Dunn and Dr. Anderson are happy to connect you with an orthodontist near you in Central Florida. If you have any questions about when your child should see the orthodontist, don’t hesitate to ask! Keep smiling, Orlando!