While it’s true that most orthodontic patients are teenagers, orthodontists also work with adults, as well as providing interceptive orthodontic treatment for younger children.
Interceptive orthodontics can reduce the need for jaw surgery or tooth extraction, it can correct certain problems as they appear (before they can get worse), shorten the length of later orthodontic treatment, encourage better facial development, and pave the way for a better final result.
The conventional wisdom is that orthodontic treatment can’t start until all the adult teeth have emerged, but certain problems with alignment, bite, and facial development can appear long before the full set of adult teeth. An orthodontist can help a child’s jawbones grow properly so that there will be enough room for all the adult teeth and a better structure for a healthy bite. When we correct malocclusions (bad bites) as they appear, it makes future treatment faster, easier, and sometimes unnecessary!
Harmful habits like thumb sucking, nail-biting, tongue thrusting, and mouth breathing can all contribute to a bad bite by leading to a narrow upper arch, an underdeveloped lower jaw, an open bite, a deep bite, or dental crowding. These can all make it more difficult to speak clearly or chew and swallow effectively. The main goal of early orthodontic intervention is to repair the damage caused by these habits and stop the habits themselves so the adult teeth can grow in how they should.
How can bad habits affect oral health? Lots of ways:
The biggest difference between phase 1 and phase 2 orthodontics is that phase 1 treatments don’t involve actual braces. Those can wait until later — if they’re still needed by then. Common treatments in interceptive orthodontics (phase 1):
Early orthodontic intervention won’t correct every type of orthodontic issue, so the best way to find out if it would benefit your child is to bring them in for a consultation around age 7, particularly if you’ve noticed any obvious problems with their bite or if they have one of the harmful oral health habits we mentioned. Until then (and always), look out for their oral health by encouraging good brushing and flossing!