As orthodontists, we see a wide age range of patients. We are asked very often, outside of the office, when a child should first see an orthodontist.
Many times parents are first told of the need to see an orthodontist by their general dentist. The general dentist watches out for certain orthodontic problems that may need addressed. The American Association of Orthodontists actually recommends that all children be seen by an orthodontist by age 7. Now, don’t get worried if your child is under the care of a good dentist, and he or she has not told you to go see the orthodontist yet. This age 7 recommendation is just that…a recommendation.
The reason that age 7 was chosen has to do with how children are developing at this age. Usually by age 7, a child has begun to lose some front baby teeth and begun to erupt some permanent first molars, sometimes called “6-year molars.” Therefore, the orthodontist can begin to get a feel for the size of the new permanent teeth and any problems with positioning, spacing, and crowding. In addition, by age 7, the orthodontist may begin to recognize any abnormalities in the growth of the jaws. Is one jaw growing more or less than the other? Is there a crossbite developing? etc.
Finding some of these early problems doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will need orthodontic treatment at this early age. The orthodontist will be looking for a few very specific conditions that must be treated at this age, but usually we will wait until all permanent teeth erupt. However, the orthodontist may suggest removal of some baby teeth to help other permanent ones erupt. Then the child will be placed on an observation schedule to monitor future eruption and growth until treatment is recommended.
Sometimes finding developing problems early can reduce the severity of the problem later as the child grows. More importantly, though, these early Age 7 visits tend to reassure the parents and show the child that coming to the orthodontist is an easy and fun experience.