One of the questions we’re often asked by parents and guardians is ‘when should my child see an orthodontist’. Braces are often associated with teens so you might be surprised to hear that children as young as seven can benefit from early orthodontic treatment.
That’s not to say that every seven-year-old should automatically see an orthodontist, but it is very important for them to attend regular check-ups with their dentist.
As well as keeping an eye on the health of your child’s teeth, your dentist will look out for any problems that might benefit from early orthodontic intervention. If they have any concerns they will refer you to see an orthodontist for an NHS assessment.
NHS assessments are free of charge and during the appointment the orthodontist will assess your child’s smile to see 1) if they require orthodontic treatment and 2) if they are eligible for NHS care. This is done using a scoring system called the Index of Orthodontic Treatment Need.
In some cases treatment isn’t needed immediately but your orthodontist will want to keep a close eye on your child’s teeth and jaws. In this instance they will invite you back for a review appointment.
What are the benefits of early treatment?
It’s important for your dentist to keep a close eye on your child’s development as some problems can be treated much more efficiently at a younger age. As we get older our jaw bone stops growing and hardens and so orthodontic treatment, while still possible, becomes slightly more difficult.
If treatment begins at a young age we have ability to guide the growth of the jaw bone and change the position and width of the jaw bones. This unfortunately isn’t possible for adults and alternative solutions can involve surgery or the removal of teeth.
If treatment is carried out while the adult teeth are emerging we can also help to make sure there is enough space and they come through in the correct position.
What should you look out for?
Some of the problems that your dentist will look out for include:
- Baby teeth that are lost too early or late – most baby teeth are lost between the ages of five and 14.
- Thumb sucking – particularly if the habit is excessive or continues after the age of four.
- Teeth that don’t bite together properly or protrude.
- Speech impediments such as a lisp, slurring or mispronunciation.
- Crowded adult front teeth.
Referring children for orthodontic care
If you have any concerns your dentist should be your first port of call. NHS referrals must go through your dentist but you can refer your child directly for a private assessment and treatment at any time if you would like a specialist’s opinion.
If your child has an NHS assessment and qualifies for treatment they may need to join a waiting list before their braces can be fitted. This is because of the limited funding available for NHS orthodontic treatment.
What does early orthodontic treatment involve?
If your child has front teeth that protrude or a small lower jaw, your orthodontist might recommend a Twin Block brace. This is a removable brace that re-positions the jaws helping them to settle in the optimum position.
Sometimes a removable brace will be followed by a fixed brace for the very best results.
Where can I find out more?
You can find out more about NHS orthodontic treatment on our website. If you think your child could benefit from NHS treatment contact your general dentist. Alternatively, if you would like to arrange a private orthodontic consultation you can contact us directly.