Early Orthodontic Treatment
Look at yearbook or prom pictures from the 1950s or '60s and you'll see many smiles framed with heavy metal braces. It's a sight that's less common in high schools today. Why the change? Children today tend to get braces at a much earlier age. Some patients with special problems begin orthodontic treatment at age 7 or younger.
"The American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) recommends that all children receive an orthodontic screening by age 7," says Thomas Cangialosi, D.D.S. "Permanent teeth generally begin to come in at age 6 or 7. It is at this point that orthodontic problems become apparent.
"Because bones are still growing, it's an ideal time to evaluate a child," Dr. Cangialosi says. "Then we can determine what orthodontic treatment, if any, may be needed either now or in the future."
Braces today tend to be less uncomfortable and less visible than they used to be. But they still take some getting used to. Food can get caught around brackets and in wires, and flossing and brushing can take more time. After adjustments sometimes the teeth may be a little sore. Tooth discomfort can be controlled by taking a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Tylenol and others) or aspirin if necessary. The use of lighter and more flexible wires has greatly lessened the amount of soreness or discomfort during treatment.
Early intervention takes advantage of the fact that a child's jaw is still growing. For example, a device called a palatal expander may be used to expand the child's upper dental arch. Once the arch is the proper size, there's a better chance that the adult teeth will emerge in better position. Sometimes teeth still may be crowded after all of them have erupted. In such cases, some permanent teeth may still have to be extracted to make room to align the teeth properly.
It is important to note that early treatment does not apply to all orthodontic problems. However, it may help in certain cases. Two conditions that require early intervention are crossbites and protruding front teeth. A crossbite can cause the jaws to grow unevenly. Front teeth that stick out may be fractured or injured in an accident, such as a fall.