While most people end up getting orthodontic treatment through the use of braces in their preteen or teen years, some children will need early intervention to correct their jaw and face shape. While this isn’t as common as needing braces, it is a real possibility, and you should take your child in to see the orthodontist about early orthodontic treatment around age seven. If you catch certain issues at the right time, there are plenty of ways to treat them.
One issue that can come up when children’s jaws are still forming is an upper jaw that is disproportionately small. This results in crowding, crossbites, underbites, or possibly edge-to-edge bites. An effective treatment for these issues is a palatal expander. The goal of this treatment is to slowly guide the growth of the upper jaw in a way that allows it to fit over the lower jaw correctly.
The appliance is cemented in the roof of the mouth and applies pressure outward, guiding the growth of the jaw outward. Your orthodontist will give you clear and detailed instructions on how to safely adjust the palatal expander over time. The process works slowly to minimize discomfort.
When your child has some of their adult teeth, but not all of them, they may need to have partial braces. This early orthodontic treatment is also done in response to a misaligned bite or crowding, or to correct excess gaps between teeth.
When a child’s bite doesn’t line up properly, it can result in eating problems, speech impediments, and ultimately lengthen their second phase of orthodontic treatment later on. Partial braces are exactly what they sound like – they are placed on only the front four to six teeth to straighten them and correct the bite. These braces typically involve brackets and elastics, and are anchored by wires connected to the molars. Be sure your child adheres to a proper diet and cares for their braces to keep them from being damaged.
Another form of treatment to fix early orthodontic problems is using different types of headgear. These instruments are used to correct the growth of the jaw to avoid a misaligned bite and crowding. Sometimes, the shape of the jaw won’t allow all of the permanent teeth to grow in, which could result in teeth needing to be pulled later on in life, and a far longer time with braces. Using headgear can correct these types of issues, shortening the length of an orthodontic treatment overall.
Headgear can be anchored at the back of the neck or at the top of the head, depending on what is prescribed from your orthodontist. And while headgear is external and very noticeable, the upside is that it doesn’t need to be worn all the time. Your child will most likely need to wear their headgear between 10 and 14 hours per day, meaning the majority of their time spent in it can be at night.