I’m a huge technology fan. It streamlines many processes in our office, and it ushers in orthodontic treatment that is more effective, provides less invasive treatment options, and is capable of achieving quicker results than ever.
The key to getting the most out of the technological advancements in orthodontics today is early detection of potentially serious bite and alignment issues. Several years ago, the American Association of Orthodontists began promoting the importance of having your children evaluated by an orthodontist by age 7. Why? Because orthodontists today have a wide range of tools at their disposal to correct myriad bite and alignment issues without the need for tooth extraction, jaw surgery, and other costly, extensive treatments that once were common.
Sometimes parents hear this “age 7 rule” and express concern that treatment at this age seems too young. The truth is, they might be right. In about 90 percent of our evaluations of 7-year-olds, I find there is no medical or dental necessity to start treatment at that age. The most important thing we do in these evaluations is take an X-ray. This gives us a window into your child’s oral development and helps us identify whether problems exist beneath the surface, or may develop in the future. Once we capture these images, your child most frequently will be placed into our monitoring program and we’ll continue to check on him periodically as his adult teeth erupt.
When Early Treatment is Recommended
Now let’s talk about the 10 percent of cases where I recommend some type of treatment. By age 7, some of the adult molars have erupted and the bite is established. This is when we can identify types of malocclusion such as underbite and crossbite. Identifying these bad bites early in a child’s growth means we can put that growth to work for us. Using minimally invasive orthodontic appliances, we can guide growth and often lessen the length of time your child will need to be in orthodontic treatment when he’s older. Even better, we can take him off a surgery track.
Waiting until adolescence to be evaluated for treatment means much of the growth in the oral cavity is complete. At that point, correcting underbite and crossbite often must be accomplished via orthognathic (jaw) surgery.
These are some of the most serious types of malocclusion that benefit from early treatment. There are other treatments that sometimes are called for at this age, such as creating space for adult teeth that haven’t yet erupted by using a palatal expander. Or maybe your child has a poor oral habit such as tongue thrusting or thumb sucking. Because of technology, we have appliances that can help curb those habits and prevent the harmful effects these habits have on your child’s teeth.
But we can’t deploy any of these minimally invasive treatments if we don’t know a problem exists. So think of early orthodontic evaluations as the great “peace of mind” provider. In most cases, you’re child won’t need treatment. In the cases where treatment is recommended, it will be cheaper and less invasive to correct it sooner rather than later. And you can thank technology for that.