By age 7, enough permanent teeth have come in and enough jaw growth has occurred that the dentist or orthodontist can identify current problems, anticipate future problems and alleviate parents concerns if all seems normal. The first permanent molars and incisors have usually come in by age 7, and cross-bites, crowding and developing injury-prone dental protrusions can be evaluated. Any ongoing finger sucking or other oral habits can be assessed at this time also.
Some signs or habits that may indicate the need for an early orthodontic examination are:
- early or late loss of baby teeth
- difficulty in chewing or biting
- mouth breathing
- thumb and finger sucking
- crowding, misplaced or blocked out teeth
- jaws that shift or make sounds
- biting the cheek or roof of the mouth
- teeth that meet abnormally or not at all
- jaws and teeth that are out of proportion to the rest of the face
A check-up with an orthodontic specialist no later than age 8 enables the orthodontist to detect and evaluate problems (if any), advise if treatment will be necessary, and determine the best time for that patient to be treated.
For those patients who have clear indications for early orthodontic intervention, early treatment presents an opportunity to:
- guide the growth of the jaw
- regulate the width of the upper and lower dental arches (the arch-shaped jaw bone that supports the teeth)
- guide incoming permanent teeth into desirable positions
- lower risk of trauma (accidents) to protruded upper incisors (front teeth)
- correct harmful oral habits such as thumb- or finger-sucking
- reduce or eliminate abnormal swallowing or speech problems
- improve personal appearance and self-esteem
- potentially simplify and/or shorten treatment time for later corrective orthodontics
- reduce likelihood of impacted permanent teeth (teeth that should have come in, but have not)
- preserve or gain space for permanent teeth that are coming in.