When to begin treatment?
Orthodontic treatment in young children is known as interceptive or Phase I orthodontics. Intervention may begin as early as age 6 or 7. At this age, teeth are still developing and the jaw is still growing; this means certain conditions, such as crowding, may be easier to address.
Before permanent teeth have come in, it may be possible to help teeth to erupt (emerge through the gums) into better positions. It's common, for example, for the dental arch to be too small to fit all of the teeth. Early intervention takes advantage of the fact that a child's jaw is still growing. For example, a device called a palatal expander may be used to expand the child's upper dental arch. Once the arch is the proper size, there's a better chance that the adult teeth will emerge in better position. Sometimes teeth still may be crowded after all of them have erupted. In such cases, some permanent teeth may still have to be extracted to make room to align the teeth properly.
So-called early treatment also may be useful when the dental arches and jaws are not in the correct position. Functional appliances may fix or improve these problems. More treatment usually is needed later on, but it may be shorter and less involved.
It is important to note that early treatment does not apply to all orthodontic problems. However, it may help in certain cases. It is also important to know that patients who receive early interceptive orthodontic treatment generally still need full braces or Invisalign treatment once all adult teeth erupt; however this early treatment will shorten and simplify future orthodontic treatment and potentially eliminate the need for jaw surgery as part of a complex orthodontic treatment plan.
Early evaluation provides both timely detection of problems and greater opportunity for more effective treatment. Prudent intervention guides growth and development, preventing serious problems later.