What is Early Orthodontic Treatment?
Early orthodontic treatment, sometimes known as interceptive orthodontics or phase 1 orthodontic treatment, is what we call orthodontic treatment for children who still have some or all of their baby teeth. While most orthodontic problems are best treated at the time when adult teeth are present, there are certain problems that will benefit from early detection and early treatment, because if left untreated, it could become more difficult to correct at an older age, or worse, that could prevent permanent teeth from growing in correctly. If you have a child who is a candidate for interceptive treatment, Dr. Li can discuss potential Phase 1 and future Phase 2 treatments with you.
When do I need to bring my child to see an orthodontist?
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children see an orthodontist for an orthodontic evaluation by 7 years of age to check their bite and ensure all permanent teeth will erupt properly. Referral is not required and you can simply schedule an evaluation directly with the orthodontic office. This early evaluation merely serves as a screening process to make sure everything is okay. And the truth is most of the time, your child’s teeth are fine, and we just need to monitor their dental development periodically (usually every 6-9 months) to make sure their teeth are coming along without problems until their adult teeth come in and are ready for comprehensive treatment. However, in some cases, our orthodontic specialist Dr. Li will identify serious dental or even skeletal problems, such as:
- Early or late loss of baby teeth
- Delayed eruption of adult teeth on one side or both sides
- Protruding or flared teeth
- Missing or extra permanent teeth
- Crowding, misplaced, or blocked out permanent teeth
- Crossbite of back and front teeth
- Large overbites, underbites, or openbites
- Disproportionate jaw growth
- Oral habits such as thumb sucking
Such conditions will benefit tremendously from an early orthodontic treatment to correct the problem early on before it causes a far greater problem when the child gets older. In summary, in line with her Association’s recommendation, Dr. Li recommends that every child see an orthodontist by age 7 and be monitored regularly afterwards to ensure no serious dental problem goes undetected.
Who Needs Phase 1/Early Treatment?
Phase 1 treatment is typically completed between the ages of 7 and 10, when both baby teeth and permanent teeth are present. It addresses specific problems such as the growth of the jaws and eruption of permanent teeth. Correct administration of phase 1 treatment can shorten and simplify future phases of treatment. There are even problems that will not be able to be fully corrected once growth is complete. Not every patient requires phase 1 treatment. While Dr. Li is a big advocate of early orthodontic evaluation, she always advises against unnecessary early treatment when it is not in the best interests of the patient.
Pros and Cons of Early Orthodontic Treatment
One advantage of interceptive treatment is that a child’s jaw is more malleable than an adult’s, so correction is easier. Treatment can prevent facial asymmetry caused by asymmetric bite (crossbite with or without shift), create necessary space for prompt and proper eruption of future teeth, reduce or prevent crowding, and even nip social trauma. Some sports injuries can be exacerbated by out-of-place teeth or jaw misalignment (malocclusions). Facial asymmetry that is not corrected before puberty can often become permanent.
However, issues related to early orthodontic treatment include patient burnout. Interceptive treatment is a commitment for both child and guardian, and even a mature child can struggle with the responsibility of continued compliance. Young children typically need supervision when taking care of their teeth, but particularly when they are wearing braces or other orthodontic equipment, it is essential that they are closely supervised brushing their teeth and performing other dental health tasks.
It is important to work with reputable orthodontic specialists who are experienced with kids. They should be able to help both you and your child ease into regular visits and orthodontic care routines. It is also important, though, that the orthodontist can explain to you why some issues should be handled during Phase 1 and some should be left until later in your child’s development. Dr. Li will never suggest treatment for the sake of treatment: her goal is simply to give your child the best chance at good orthodontic health and function.