A Parents’ Guide to Pediatric Orthodontics in Vancouver, WA
From the first time your child cracked a toothy grin to the day they switched to solid food, you knew how precious their smile was to their self-expression, nutrition, and overall well-being. But while you’ve mastered daily brushing, flossing, and routine dental visits, stepping into pediatric orthodontics can feel like uncharted territory. As you watch your child’s smile develop and change, you may be asking: when are braces needed? What’s the best age for braces? Does my child need orthodontic treatment before braces? And how do I know when to begin?
Here are the 5 things you need to know about pediatric orthodontics, so you can help pave the smoothest road to your child’s healthiest smile at every age.
1. Pediatric orthodontists do more than straighten teeth.
Pediatric orthodontists combine two specialized areas of dental expertise to help your child achieve their healthiest smile: orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. While the goal of orthodontics is to strategically reposition your child’s teeth, the objective of dentofacial orthopedics is to guide your child’s optimal facial growth and development.
Guided by this holistic approach, pediatric orthodontists offer personalized treatments to correct misalignments in your child’s bite (known as malocclusion), which occurs when the upper and lower jaws don’t properly meet. Generally detrimental to your child’s oral health and well-being, malocclusion can negatively affect chewing and speaking, abnormally wear down tooth enamel, prevent the lips or upper and lower arches of teeth from meeting, and result in long-term jaw and facial pain.
Of course, alongside addressing overbites, underbites, crossbites, and open bites (when the upper and lower teeth don’t meet), a pediatric orthodontist treatment will help your child achieve a smile that’s even and straight by correcting teeth that are crooked, crowded, gapped, misaligned, or protruded.
2. Children should be evaluated by age seven.
As humans, the bulk of our facial development occurs before adolescence while our skeletal system is still malleable and growing. During this peak developmental phase, when your child has both baby and permanent teeth (called mixed dentition), a pediatric orthodontist can identify potential issues with your child’s palate, jaw, and permanent teeth and chart a course of treatment that may reduce the need for more extensive orthodontic interventions later.
At seven-years-old, most children have received their permanent first molars, which are unique in that they do not have a primary tooth predecessor. While these first molars give a preview into potential issues that may arise in your child’s dentition (such as overcrowding), issues with your child’s bite (such as a crossbite) may also be apparent. An evaluation prior to age seven will allow the pediatric doctor to assess your child’s palate and its formation and intervene if the palate isn’t fusing properly.
Most children complete their dental growth between ages 12 and 13. Though adolescence and orthodontics are virtually synonymous, waiting to evaluate potential issues until all the permanent teeth have erupted and facial growth is near complete can make some orthodontic interventions more challenging to complete.
3. An evaluation is recommended for all children—even those who appear to have straight teeth.
Even if your child appears to have straight teeth, often only a pediatric orthodontist can detect subtle or underlying issues with their palate, jaws, or teeth. Alongside evaluating your child’s front-to-back, side-to-side, and vertical tooth relationships, a pediatric orthodontist can recognize if your child’s bite or teeth have been impacted by other influences, such as mouth breathing or thumb sucking, and offer treatment before your child’s oral health is further impacted.
4. Early orthodontic treatment often has two phases.
Phase I of early orthodontic treatment (also known as interceptive orthodontics) typically occurs between ages seven and 11, though treatment can begin as early as five or six. Interceptive orthodontics aims to direct the rate, orientation, or proportion of your child’s jaw growth and teeth alignment using an assortment of removable or fixed dentofacial orthodontic appliances, such as palatal expanders, blocks, and activators.
Phase I orthodontics may not prevent the need for future orthodontic treatment, though it can make a sizable difference in your child’s long-term oral health. In addition to correcting the development of your child’s jaw and dental arches, Phase I orthodontics may lessen the time and extent of future orthodontic treatments and reduce the need for additional orthodontic appliances.
Phase II treatment involves what you probably associate with orthodontics, such as metal or ceramic braces, and usually takes place between ages 11 and 18, when most of the permanent teeth have erupted. Phase II orthodontics will reposition your child’s teeth and ensure that your child’s jaws continue to grow toward optimal development.
5. Straighter teeth aren’t just about vanity.
Straighter teeth undoubtedly elevate the appearance of your child’s smile, though their benefits are more than skin deep. Expertly aligned teeth are less prone to wear and injury and are easier to keep clean, resulting in a more resilient smile that’s less vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease.
From routine cleanings to pediatric orthodontic treatment, Dr. G and Dr. Mo and their dental team are here to help your child achieve a beautiful, healthy smile that lasts a lifetime. To get answers to your questions or to schedule your child’s pediatric orthodontic evaluation in Vancouver, WA, contact our office today.