Some childhood problems are easily recognized by parents and caregivers, such as learning disabilities or hearing impairment. But orthodontic issues, those involving the alignment of the teeth and jaw, often go unnoticed until several of the permanent teeth have already come in. Experts urge parents to take their children to a family dentist for an orthodontic screening no later than age 7. If your child has just recently started losing baby teeth at that age, you may be wondering, "Why so early?" Here are the facts:
As a parent, you're probably amazed at how quickly your kids grow out of clothing and shoes. You're not just imagining it - between the ages of 2 and 12, children grow at an average rate of 2 to 2 1/2 inches per year. The same rapid growth applies to the facial bones that support a child's teeth. This is why seeing your St. Louis dental professional is so important - with the bones still flexible as they grow, their pattern can be monitored and a plan for treatment can be devised if necessary. This doesn't necessarily mean your child WILL need treatment; establishing a baseline and keeping track of the progress is necessary to make that determination.
While most modern orthodontic work begins around ages 9 to 14, there are a few growth problems that need to be corrected as early as possible. Some children have a crossbite, a condition where the upper teeth are situated behind the lower teeth. A retainer worn on the upper back molars, called a palatal expander, gradually widens the upper jaw. This is a painless procedure that is carried out over a period of weeks, and patients become accustomed to the feel of the expander in their mouth within a few days.
Children with severe crowding, where the small size of the mouth is not relative to the size of the teeth, may also benefit from early intervention with a palatal expander. Some patients may need one or more teeth extracted to allow more space for the adult set to come in. Braces may be necessary later, but they will likely be worn for a shorter duration.
Thumb sucking is a common habit that sometimes begins prior to birth. Although this reflex is natural, if the habit is carried out beyond age 3, it can result in the teeth shifting and the jaws to change shape. This can cause the orthodontic abnormality known as "open bite," in which the upper and lower teeth do not meet in the front. Mouth breathing can also cause the upper and lower jaws to grow out of sync with each other, resulting in a multitude of potentially severe orthodontic problems.
With adult molars coming in around the age of 6, early detection of problems with growth or mannerisms can mean avoiding expensive, lengthy and often painful treatments later in life. Your dentists in St. Louis encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity they provide with early orthodontic screening.