When children still have their baby teeth, they may show signs of needing early orthodontic interventions to correct certain problems. Children with extra teeth or exceptionally crowded teeth may be candidates for early treatment. Teeth that are excessively spaced out may also be a sign that early orthodontics could be beneficial.
Besides the spacing and positioning of the teeth, early orthodontics may also benefit children with bite problems. An underbite, where the lower teeth jut out further from the upper teeth, and a crossbite, where the jaw appears to shift to the side, may be successfully treated with early orthodontics. Genetics is the most common reason why a young child may have a bite problem, but some of these problems may be linked to thumb-sucking, prolonged pacifier use, or bottle use.
During phase 1 treatment, the orthodontist may use a variety of dental appliances to help align the patient's teeth. Phase 1 treatment usually occurs when the child still has their baby teeth. There are also some early orthodontics treatments that use braces during phase 1.
The orthodontist may use space maintainers or spacers to help space out crowded teeth. Expanders are also used during some phase 1 treatment plans to help gently expand the palate. Phase 1 treatment may also consist of appliances such as headgear, retainers, and braces to guide the jawbone and permanent teeth growth into a better position.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists, children should see an orthodontist by age 7. Phase 1 orthodontics typically begins around age 6 and up to age 9. This treatment phase may last between nine and 18 months, depending on the severity and specifics of the child's bite or teeth alignment problems.
After completing phase 1, the next step is phase 2 orthodontic treatment. Arizona Family Dental carefully evaluates each patient's progress during phase 1 before transitioning to the next step. Here is what happens during phase 2 of an early orthodontic treatment plan:
● Resting. Some patients may need to enter a resting phase before starting phase 2. During this step, the patient may need to only wear a retainer and have monitoring appointments. When the teeth are in the resting stage, the orthodontist will not place new dental appliances or braces.● Straightening. Then, the child is ready for braces. Our staff places the wires, bands, and brackets onto the child’s teeth during an appointment. This stage may take between 12 and 24 months.● Monitoring. Throughout the phase 2 treatment, the patient must come in for regular monitoring appointments. During an appointment, the dental provider will check the patient’s progress and may make adjustments. Once treatment is done, the orthodontist may recommend wearing a retainer to keep the teeth in alignment.
At age 6 or 7, children still have most of their baby teeth. According to the American Dental Association, most children this age also have their permanent two front teeth and first adult molars. These adult teeth are key in determining a child's bite and evaluating their teeth alignment.
During the phase 1 treatment stage, children may have to come to the office for appointments every four to eight weeks. These regular monitoring appointments are necessary to check progress. After the child transitions to phase 2, there will still be a need to attend regular monitoring and adjustment appointments.
An expander is a dental appliance used in orthodontic treatment to enlarge the palate structure. This helps make more room for the adult teeth and phase 2 treatment. Children may be fitted with upper or lower palate expanders in their mouth for a series of weeks or months.
Some patients may need spacers during the first few months of early orthodontics treatment. Spacers are small bands that are placed between the teeth to help open up the space for future dental appliances. Rubber spacers may be worn for a week or two, and metal spacers for longer.
Since early orthodontic treatment is a multi-stage process, there may be several instances of post-procedure care. After children get an expander, dental appliance, or braces, there may be a period of time with some minor discomfort. The orthodontist may also provide instructions about temporary diet modifications a few hours after treatment.