Orthodontics for Children and Teens
Like their developing bodies and brains, your child’s smile will continually transform from early childhood through teens. Along with making the switch from baby to adult teeth, the bones and muscles of your child’s mouth and jaws are also growing into their unique adult shapes. A variety of factors, for example, genetics or thumb-sucking past age 5, can impact the ideal development of your child’s jaws or dentition and make your child more likely to experience greater orthodontic issues later.
Fortunately, children who are still actively growing are often perfect candidates for interceptive orthodontics, because their natural growth makes their tissues especially responsive to orthodontic treatment. Dr. Leslie combines her advanced training in dentofacial orthopedics with noninvasive dental technology to identify potential orthodontic issues early and work with your child’s natural growth and development.
Interceptive Orthodontics for Younger Patients
The American Association of Orthodontics recommends that every child have their first orthodontic evaluation by age 7. At this time, your child has a combination of both baby and permanent teeth (called the mixed dentition) and will indicate how your child's mouth and smile are developing.
Dr. Leslie offers early orthodontic evaluations to determine if your child may benefit from interceptive orthodontic treatment. Also known as Phase I orthodontics, interceptive orthodontics aims to do the following:
- intercept a tooth eruption or a growth issue before it becomes a more complex problem
- make space for crowded teeth
- improve the orientation and relationship between the jaws.
An early orthodontic evaluation can also identify orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMD), such as thumb-sucking past age 5 and mouth breathing, which can negatively impact your child’s ideal orofacial development.
Interceptive orthodontics typically occurs between ages 7 and 11, though can begin as early as 6, using fixed orthodontic appliances. In most cases, interceptive orthodontics will be followed by comprehensive orthodontic treatment, once your child has most of their permanent teeth. A free evaluation with Dr. Leslie is the best way to know what treatment is right for your child’s unique needs.
Space maintainers are simple dental appliances that preserve and maintain the space created when one or more baby teeth are lost. Sometimes baby teeth are lost early, possibly due to injury or tooth decay, but the space that remains is very important to allow for proper eruption of your child's permanent teeth. Dr. Leslie uses a minimalistic design that is custom made to fit comfortably in your child's mouth.
Space maintainers are made to remain in place long-term as the permanent teeth are developing and erupting, meaning they are cemented and cannot be removed. Sometimes space maintainers may be in place for a few years allowing mother nature to utilize the space as needed for the developing permanent dentition. Don't worry! Children do very well accommodating this new appliance and will have no issues playing sports, playing instruments, or carrying out their usual activities! Dr. Leslie will continue to monitor your child's growth and development on a regular basis, and will recommend when it is the ideal time to remove the space maintainer.
Thumb-sucking/Habit Reminder Appliances
While it’s a normal and comforting reflex for children from birth to 3, prolonged thumb-sucking or finger habits that continues past age 4 to 5 years can cause or exacerbate a host of orthodontic issues, including narrowing of the archforms, crossbites, and lack of overlap between front teeth also called an open bite. Because children are actively growing at this time, the final size and shape of their upper and lower jaws can be permanently altered if the habit is not stopped early. If your attempts to help your child stop sucking their thumb or fingers have been unsuccessful, Dr. Leslie may recommend placement of an appliance that will temporarily act as a reminder to cease the habit. We call these “habit reminder appliances.”
Habit reminder appliances come in many different designs and are custom made to fit the needs of your child specifically. Usually made of thin metal wires, these appliances are cemented using metal rings around molar teeth with the thin wires occupying the area where thumbs/fingers are placed. By preventing your child's thumb or fingers from reaching the roof of their mouth, the satisfaction that comes with the act of thumb-sucking is eliminated and is a constant reminder. Wondering if this approach is still too aggressive for your child? Dr. Leslie will help offer other tips and tricks that may be less invasive and still accomplish the goal of habit cessation.
The width of the developing upper jaw, or maxilla, directly affects growth and eruption. When the maxilla is too narrow, the space available for erupting teeth is reduced and also can affect the way upper and lower teeth bite together. Expanding the maxilla using a palatal expander will gently and gradually widen the upper jaw, normalizing the width and creating additional space for erupting teeth.
A palatal expander is a custom-made, cemented appliance that is made to fit across the roof of the mouth. To put it simply, an expander is two pieces joined in the center by a screw mechanism that is turned daily to slowly separate, and as a result push teeth and the upper jaw apart creating expansion. Dr. Leslie monitors this expansion very carefully and will advise when sufficient expansion has been accomplished and no further turns are needed. Your child will continue to wear their expander for a minimum of 6 months to allow the new bone structure to adapt and heal.
If your child has spacing issues, overcrowding, or malocclusion (misaligned jaws), partial braces can start correcting these issues before your child has all of their adult teeth and before they become more complicated to treat. Unlike full braces, which are attached to each one of your child’s teeth, partial braces are typically attached to four to six of your child’s front upper or lower teeth. Like braces, partial braces work by applying gentle torque to move teeth into their desired position using a u-shaped wire (called an archwire) that is attached to brackets on the fronts of the teeth and bands around the molars.
As partial braces target fewer teeth, treatment is typically completed in less than 12 months. Once your child has completed treatment with partial braces and most of their adult teeth have erupted, they may go onto full braces to finish correcting misalignments in their jaws and teeth.
Orthodontic Treatment for Children and Teens
Your child’s smile is as unique as they are, and will be with them for every meal, milestone, and triumph they’ll ever experience. Whether your child or teen’s developing smile is emerging without an obvious issue or is showing signs of treatment needs, Dr. Leslie gives initial consultations for free, monitors their smile’s ongoing development, and offers comprehensive orthodontics that help their smile be a lifelong asset that supports their total well-being.
Orthodontic treatment is planned with a high level of detail, strategy, and care for your child or teen’s unique needs. During treatment planning, Dr. Leslie and her team will use digital photography, X-rays, and impressions to create a 3D model of your child or teen’s facial structures, mouth, teeth, and bite. This allows for results that bring equal parts function, health, and beauty.
Braces are a type of orthodontic appliance that is meant to stay attached and in place throughout treatment. Braces are a highly effective method for treating misalignments in the jaws and teeth (known as malocclusion) because they can consistently and steadily maintain gentle pressure to achieve the desired movements.
Treatment with braces typically begins once most of your child's permanent teeth have erupted (roughly age 10-12), though it can start earlier or later depending on development. When your child is ready to start treatment, Dr. Leslie will place all of the brackets in their ideal position. Regular adjustment visits consist of wire changes and progress assessments by Dr. Leslie at each appointment.
Clear aligners are an alternative to traditional braces which provide a removable, nearly invisible option for orthodontic treatment. Like braces, clear aligners address malocclusion (misalignments in the teeth and bite) by applying gentle pressure to sequentially move teeth to their final positions. When wondering whether clear aligners are a good option for your teen, consider that they are removable and potentially can be misplaced, lost, broken, and ultimately not worn consistently. If your teen sounds responsible enough to care for aligners, ask Dr. Leslie if the degree of complexity of their case also makes them a good candidate.
Retainers are simple dental appliances that preserve your child’s orthodontic results by preventing teeth from shifting out of their desired new positions. Made of metal, plastic, or a combination of both, retainers are custom made for your child’s teeth and may be removable or fixed to the back of your child’s teeth. Along with providing your child with one or more custom retainers at the end of treatment, Dr. Leslie can also replace or rebond retainers that have become lost or damaged.
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