Parents don’t need years of specialty training to be able to help orthodontists examine, diagnosis, and keep their children healthy. Your baby’s first orthodontist appointment should be earlier than you’re probably thinking.
Most parents are not trained as orthodontists. It can take 10 or more years after high school to become educated as a specialist in orthodontics. That includes:
- Attending college
- Dental school
- The completion of two to three years of full-time study at an accredited orthodontic residency program
But such extensive education is not required for a parent to appreciate when their child is suffering from an orthodontic problem, or from one that might be in the works. Knowing that a beautiful smile is an asset to oral, physical, and emotional health, parents commonly ask about the “right time” to visit an orthodontist. With parents’ curiosity in mind, some “Orthodontics 101” is in order.
Class is in session
It’s commonly believed that a child does not need to see an orthodontist until all of his or her baby teeth have been lost. This is a misconception. Baby’s first orthodontist visit should be scheduled for when baby teeth are still present, but after the first permanent molars have emerged. That is when the orthodontist evaluates the child’s bite – the way upper and lower teeth meet and work; if a problem is discovered, that’s when the parent and orthodontist can discuss its nature and how to correct it.
Parents should also be on the lookout for:
- Excessive spacing
- Protrusive upper teeth
- Open bites in their children’s mouths.
Thumb- and finger-sucking can distort the bone in the upper jaw, creating an “open bite;” this keeps the front teeth from overlapping when the back teeth are closed.
Now say ”ah”
A crossbite is when the upper teeth do not fit inside of lower teeth; it can involve one or multiple teeth. A crossbite of the back teeth can make the jaw shift to one side, and may cause lopsided growth. If front teeth are in crossbite, one or more of the top teeth sit behind the bottom teeth when the mouth closes. Whatever the problem, early recognition is the key to getting a child the appropriate treatment at the appropriate time.
More information is offered by the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) in the Parents’ Guide to Orthodontics. It features an easy-to-navigate Q&A format plus a glossary of more than 100 orthodontic terms parents may encounter. Problems to Watch for in Growing Children is another AAO educational resource. This includes photos of the orthodontic conditions mentioned above.
The AAO recommends children get their first check-up with an orthodontist no later than age 7 to give them the best opportunity for a healthy, beautiful smile.
For more information, be sure to visit aaoinfo.org.