BUFFALO GROVE, ILLINOIS—In the past, getting braces was a rite of passage reserved for teenagers, but it is not uncommon these days to see kids in elementary school sporting the wires and brackets.
When braces are done this early, it is usually part of a two-phase treatment plan for children being treated by an orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics specialist, who is a dentist with two to three years of additional study on tooth movement and facial growth and development.
“The reason orthodontics are being used on younger children is because there are certain orthodontic issues that are much easier to address while the bones in the face and jaw are still developing,” says Dr. Yan Razdolsky, a Buffalo Grove orthodontist .
Some malocclusions are just crooked or crowded teeth that can be fixed with orthodontia at any point in life without much problem, but other malocclusions are much easier and faster to treat when the patient is young. The two most common malocclusions that can be helped by this two-phase treatment plan are an underbite and a crossbite.
Left untreated, these malocclusions can cause uneven jaw growth, speech development problems, headaches, chewing problems, altered facial structure or misaligned teeth. Extremely crowded teeth can cause the bone and gums over the roots to thin and recede, which can have an impact on permanent teeth. This is why the American Association of Orthodontists recommends parents and guardians have their children screened no later than age 7, which is when permanent teeth typically start to erupt and orthodontic problems become more obvious.
“After the permanent teeth have come in and facial development is complete, it can be much more challenging to correct these types of orthodontic issues,” says Dr. Pedro Alquizar, a Miami orthodontist who specializes in two-phase treatment.
The first phase of treatment is focused on guiding the developing bone structure to line up the upper and lower jaws and allow permanent teeth to erupt properly. This can be done using a variety of specialized appliances and techniques to align the jaw and correct facial abnormalities. The second phase of treatment usually happens when the patient is a teenager, and it is designed to bring teeth into alignment. The latter phase of treatment is typically much faster, easier and more successful than it would have been otherwise. Early correction can also prevent the need for extractions of permanent teeth or jaw surgery.
“Children can benefit enormously from early correction and two phases of orthodontic treatment, but the only way to know if they need it is to have them evaluated by an orthodontics expert,” says Dr. Razdolsky.