The need for good dental hygiene in childhood is obvious. Establishing good habits increases the likelihood that they are maintained throughout life, it also ensures that adulthood is entered with the teeth and gums in good shape, rather than already at risk of decay and disease.
While dental check-ups should be booked every year – and we recommend starting from as young as age one to help curtail any fear of the dentist – there are also huge benefits to seeing an orthodontist in childhood.
An orthodontist can check the alignment of teeth and use their extra expertise to deliver the best solution to help correct any issues. Early intervention also makes it far simpler to correct them.
What is orthodontics?
Orthodontics is a specialised part of dentistry that focusses on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of irregular tooth and jaw alignment.
Generally, the ideal time for children to be assessed is around the age of eight. Orthodontic treatment is not typically carried out until all adult teeth have erupted, although earlier intervention can help in some cases. However, it is never too late to consider orthodontic treatment and certainly any parent who has concerns about their children’s teeth, no matter their age, should consider having a consultation.
Choosing who to see for an orthodontic assessment can be confusing, there are orthodontists and there are general dentists who carry out some orthodontic treatments.
The difference is expertise. An orthodontist is a trained and practiced general dentist who has also completed at least three further years of full-time specialist orthodontic training.
We’d think of it this way – if someone is going to be checking your child’s teeth, bite and jaw and possibly recommending procedures that will have a long-term effect, you would want that to be someone who has undergone specialist training.
Another common question is whether you need a referral from a GP or dentist for your child to see an orthodontist; although you can seek advice from your child’s general dentist you can book a consultation directly with your chosen orthodontist without a recommendation or referral.
Why Orthodontics matter – the long term
If a child could benefit from orthodontic treatment, a failure to act may go on to have serious implications.
There can be, as shown below, an impact on facial structure should an overbite or underbite become prominent.
Plaque can collect more readily in the spaces between teeth that overlap and are difficult to brush, which in turn can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, and on to even further health risks as gum disease has been linked to conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Misaligned teeth can lead to speech impediments, headaches and jaw ache and to improper chewing of food which then creates gastrointestinal problems.
On top of this, speech impediments or protruding teeth can sadly lead to bullying and accompanying psychological and self-esteem issues.
How though to tackle these problems?
Orthodontics at different ages
Around the age of eight is a common time for an orthodontic assessment – but please don’t be alarmed if your child is older than this.
Between eight and ten, children have a mix of baby and adult teeth and growth spurts at this stage make it easier and quicker to move teeth as required.
Later on, into the teenage years, teeth and bone are formed, there might also be no further jaw expansion as children get older, and so that removes one possible option – using the expansion to create room to help realign teeth. This is usually when teeth may need to be extracted to make room for realignment.
When children under the age of 10 are treated, custom fitted removable acrylic appliances are often used. These can be made in any colour for a fun look, or made to be relatively “invisible”.
Fixed appliances may also be used when alignment of front teeth is needed for aesthetic purposes as well as expansion, or when the youngster has overjet teeth (also known as buck teeth).
For older children, braces are common and these again are increasingly becoming a fashion statement and are far from being just the undesirable train tracks of old. Colours can be added and people post proud portraits to Instagram with their colour scheme – in some countries there are even dangerous trends of children having braces fitted purely for fashion purposes!
There are three types of braces:
- Fixed labial braces which are the most common form – these are the traditional braces you see on the outside of teeth.
- Lingual braces which go on the inside of teeth making them invisible to the eye of the onlooker. Although less common for children, these can be a great choice for an aspiring actor or model.
- Invisalign, which are braces that aren’t actually “braces” at all. Invisalign appliances consist of a sequence of custom-made clear aligners. Although not completely invisible, they are much more discreet than the braces applied to the front of teeth, they are also comfortable to wear, can be removed for special occasions such as weddings and they place no limits on what can be eaten as they are removed for eating. That said, as a dental and orthodontic surgery, we would like to suggest that no limits doesn’t mean indulging in a tonne of sugary treats!
When to see an orthodontist
We’ve spoken about potential treatments but how do you know if your child should go and see an orthodontist for a consultation?
You might want to consider a consultation if any of these apply to your child:
- They have, or had, an early, late or irregular loss of baby teeth
- They have difficulty chewing or biting
- They breathe through their mouth rather than nose
- They have protruding teeth
- They continued sucking their thumb beyond the age of five
- They have an underbite or overbite
- Their teeth are somewhat crooked, crowded or misplaced
- They have jaws and teeth that are out of proportion with the rest of their face.
Of course, with some of these it is hard to be certain, that is where that expert training and experience of an orthodontist comes in – if there is an issue to be corrected they can come up with a recommended treatment, if everything is actually fine you have that lovely warm glow of knowing there is nothing to worry about.
Rather than thinking in terms of the big decision whether your child requires the services of an orthodontist, the key perhaps is to find the right dental practice so they have superb ongoing dental care and any potential issues are spotted early.
Regular dental check-ups will help spot any signs of tooth decay and gum problems, check the development of wisdom teeth and encourage optimal levels of oral hygiene.
In a separate post we will take a look at how to adjust to life with braces, including what to eat and avoid and how to maintain dental hygiene.
The Dental Surgery
At The Dental Surgery, we have all the specialisms on hand, from general dental practitioners to hygienists to specialist orthodontists. See our guide to choosing an orthodontist in London here . Any issues requiring further attention would be spotted by the general dentist and then an appointment could be made as required to see an expert.
At The Orthodontic Surgery each patient is examined as an individual and treatment is discussed on a case by case basis to provide the most appropriate treatment options for you or your child.
We believe that orthodontics should only be a once in a lifetime investment!
To contact us, please call 020 7680 1800 or get in touch online.