When Is Early Interceptive Orthodontics Appropriate?
A glance at any group of teenagers shows that wearing braces during adolescence is still very much a rite of passage. In the US alone, approximately 4 million teenagers and older children will receive some form of orthodontic treatment each year. This is before we even begin to think about the numbers of adults who are now choosing to wear braces.
However, while most orthodontic treatments can be used at any age, there is one form of orthodontic treatment that is specifically for younger children. It is only applicable while their mouths are still growing and developing. This is called early interceptive orthodontics and it’s becoming an increasingly popular form of treatment because it can provide an excellent outcome.
What Is Early Interceptive Orthodontics?
With early interceptive orthodontics, children can receive treatment at a much earlier age, generally between age 6 and 10. This is in sharp contrast to traditional orthodontics where treatment normally begins in the very early teens or in late childhood. This is when most of the permanent teeth have already erupted. Whereas traditional orthodontics uses braces, the interceptive treatment uses other techniques.
Often appliances will be removable and might focus on behavioral modification. This type of treatment can be particularly relevant when a child has thumb or finger sucking habits. It’s also relevant when they have other oral habits such as mouth breathing or tongue thrusting and which have affected the development of their teeth and jaws. After early interceptive treatment is completed, traditional braces may be worn.
This is if an orthodontist has planned a two-stage treatment. Sometimes it isn’t even necessary for a child to wear conventional braces after receiving early orthodontic care.
What Is the Purpose of Early Interceptive Orthodontics?
The purpose of early treatment is to help guide the growth and development of a child’s jaws at that age. This is because their bones are still relatively soft and are still developing. This is why interceptive treatment is only possible at this age. This is why it isn’t generally suggested for older children and adults to receive this kind of treatment.
By planning treatment to coincide with a child’s growth spurts, a skilled orthodontist can often achieve results. These results wouldn’t have been possible without lengthier and more invasive treatments. Early interceptive orthodontics helps to provide children with nicer and healthier smiles combined with improved aesthetics and function.
Treatment Can Help Avoid Extractions
Often with conventional orthodontic treatment that takes place during the teens, it’s necessary for pediatric dentists to carry out tooth extractions. This is because the jaws aren’t quite large enough or are not correctly shaped to accommodate all the permanent teeth. When there is insufficient room, teeth can erupt in the incorrect alignment because they are overcrowded. As a result, a child may suffer from malocclusion or a poor bite.
Poorly aligned teeth not only look less attractive but also make it harder for a child to maintain good oral hygiene. As a result, the risk of common dental diseases including gum disease and tooth decay increases. While removing teeth is one solution that will help to create room for the developing permanent teeth, early interceptive orthodontics can be a preferable choice. With this treatment, special appliances can be used to gradually widen the jaws.
This creates sufficient room for the adult teeth to erupt normally, without any problems with overcrowding. One particular device is called a palatal expander.
What is a Palatal Expander?
It is an adjustable appliance that can be gradually widened as the jaws develop, slowly expanding the width of the upper jaw. A palatal expander consists of two halves that are joined together with a special screw. Each day, the screw can be adjusted to gradually widen the appliance. Often the upper jaw will become too narrow to accommodate the permanent teeth due to a child’s oral habits, especially the thumb and finger sucking.
When a child sucks their thumb or finger beyond the age or two it can pull the upper teeth outwards. At the same time, the upper jaw is also pulled outwards, becoming elongated and narrower than is preferable. A palatal expander works in harmony with the natural growth of the upper jaws. By this stage, the two bones that form the upper jaw haven’t yet become fused together.
This fusion isn’t completed until after puberty is finished, which is why this age is the perfect time for interceptive orthodontics. At this young age, the bones are developing so rapidly that new bone quickly forms to fill in the space created by gradually widening the palatal expander. A young child’s bones are still quite pliable, so this device causes minimal discomfort.
Most children will need to wear a palatal expander for just six months to a year, depending on the degree of expansion required. Afterwards, it might be necessary for the child to wear a retainer to ensure their newly expanded jawbones remain the correct place. Palatal expanders are one of the most popular devices worn during early interceptive orthodontics.
They are not the only appliance that may be recommended by your child’s orthodontist. Other appliances may concentrate on correcting habits such as tongue thrusting and may be combined with special exercises that need to be performed each day. The appliances, called myofunctional appliances, can be extremely effective for correcting slightly different orthodontic problems.
Sometimes Early Treatment Might be As Simple as Using a Space Maintainer
Early interceptive treatment may not always involve moving the jaws or teeth. Sometimes it can be very straightforward as for example where a space maintainer is needed. This is a simple device that is used to hold open the correct amount of space in the jaw when a child has lost a tooth too soon. A space maintainer might be suggested by a pediatric dentist when a child loses a primary tooth too soon.
It is designed to help keep the space open until the adult tooth is ready to erupt. This prevents teeth from shifting out of position which could cause problems with overcrowding. Unfortunately, often primary teeth need to be extracted due to problems with tooth decay. Tooth decay or early childhood caries is an entirely preventable problem.
When a child regularly sees a pediatric dentist and has a good oral care routine at home, then tooth decay can be avoided. Another advantage of taking your child to regularly see a dentist is that they can recommend an early orthodontic evaluation if they think your kid will benefit.
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