Learn If Overcrowding Teeth Are in Your Child’s Future

Do you know the early signs of malocclusion

Protecting your child’s future oral health by watching for signs of malocclusion

As your child’s adult teeth begin erupting and visits from the Tooth Fairy become more commonplace, you might begin thinking about future orthodontic treatments and wondering, “How do I know if my child will need braces?” The answer might surprise you! Even before all of your child’s adult teeth have erupted, your child’s dentist will look for early signs of malocclusion, some of which can—and even should—be treated using early orthodontic treatments. There are even some early signs of malocclusion you can watch out for at home.

Knowing what these signs are and keeping an eye out for them can help identify malocclusions early, which can help ensure that your child gets the best possible treatment right when they need it. Orthodontic treatments impact the appearance of your child’s smile and their confidence, but they also help improve and protect your child’s oral health for a lifetime.

We know this isn’t an easy issue to navigate on your own, but you don’t have to! We’ve put together a guide to help you learn more about these early signs of malocclusion, what they could mean for your child, and when your child should have their first orthodontic evaluation.

What early signs of malocclusion can you look out for at home?

There are several early signs of malocclusion that you can watch out for at home. Your child’s teeth and bite can impact their ability to easily carry out basic tasks, which can lead to two of the more obvious signs. The first is that they may have a hard time making certain sounds when they speak and develop a lisp.

The second sign is difficulty eating, potentially expressing that chewing is uncomfortable or painful. One reason this can happen is that malocclusion can cause issues with the joints of their jaw, putting more strain on them than usual. These jaw issues can cause muscle tension and inflammation and will be obvious because your child will complain of issues like frequent headaches or earaches. Similarly, you may notice that they frequently clench their jaw or grind their teeth, which can be a sign of malocclusion.

Another early sign of malocclusion that’s easy to spot is mouth breathing. This is exactly what it sounds like—an issue where your child breathes through their mouth instead of their nose. This isn’t ideal for several reasons, including the fact that it bypasses the natural filtration system in your child’s nose, can impact the appearance of their face, and can increase their chances of developing oral health issues like cavities and gum disease. In some cases, malocclusion can cause tooth decay or gingivitis, due to issues like mouth breathing or crooked and overcrowded teeth that are harder to clean thoroughly.

You can also look for certain habits that can lead to or worsen malocclusion, such as thumb sucking past the age of four years old. The habit is a healthy one when your child is young, but after around five years old, it can impact the development of their teeth. Most kids stop sucking their thumbs on their own at around three or four years old, but if they don’t, you can help protect their bite by gently discouraging the habit.

What does your child’s dentist look for during evaluations?

When you bring your child to the dentist, they’ll look for signs of the different types of malocclusions during their evaluation. The major types of malocclusions include overbites, underbites, open bites, and crossbites.

Overbites are when your child’s upper teeth jut past their bottom teeth too much, while an underbite is when the bottom teeth stick out past the upper teeth. In contrast, open bites are when the upper and lower front teeth don’t meet the way they should, causing a gap between them when your child’s mouth is closed. This type of malocclusion can make speaking and biting into things particularly difficult for your child. Lastly, a crossbite is when one or more of your child’s teeth aren’t lined up properly, causing upper teeth to sit inside of or behind the lower teeth.

Your child’s dentist will also pay attention to several factors to determine if they’re developing—or likely to develop—a malocclusion. They’ll pay attention to the placement, spacing, and size of your child’s teeth, as these factors can all speak to potential future issues. Overcrowding of baby teeth, for example, can be a sign that your child’s adult teeth will be overcrowded and may come in crooked as a result. Despite this, it’s also important to remember that your child is still growing and developing. Some signs that your child’s dentist may notice, which seem like concerns at such a young age, can self-correct over time. As a result, your child’s dentist will look at the big picture.

We never want to put your child through more treatments than absolutely necessary, so sometimes the best thing to do is keep an eye on your child’s bite as their teeth develop. If the issue goes away on its own, great! If it doesn’t, treatment with orthodontics may be necessary.

How early can you start orthodontics?

While it’s best to wait to correct some orthodontic issues, other problems are best treated early, while your child is still growing and the roof of their mouth is still malleable. This is why it’s so important to bring your child to their first orthodontic evaluation by the age of seven. At this age, they’ve already developed enough adult teeth, including their first set of adult molars, to allow dentists to make predictions about the development of the rest of their adult teeth. Keeping an eye on the development of your child’s teeth and jaws allows you and their dentist to time any treatments they need perfectly.

Issues like overcrowding, for example, are often best treated with early orthodontic treatments like palate expanders to create more room in your child’s mouth for their adult teeth. Space maintainers can save the gaps of teeth that your child loses too early, allowing their adult teeth to erupt normally when they’re ready. Getting these treatments early, often around the age of seven or eight years old in the case of palate expanders, can reduce the need for future orthodontic treatments. In the case of overcrowding, creating more room in your child’s mouth can reduce or even eliminate the need for future tooth extractions.

Early orthodontics can also shorten the severity or length of any future orthodontic treatments your child does end up needing, such as braces as they get older. If your child doesn’t need early orthodontic treatments, you’ll still have all the information you need for possible orthodontic treatments in the future. In either case, these early orthodontic evaluations help your child gain the best long-term results for their smile.

Don’t wait to take your child to your Omaha, NE dentist. 

Although taking your child to their first orthodontic evaluation at seven years old may seem young to you at first, what you learn during their evaluation is invaluable. It’s the first step to ensuring that your child ends up with a smile that is as healthy as it is beautiful. If you’d like to learn more about early orthodontics, or would like to schedule your child’s first evaluation with an Omaha orthodontist, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Leslie.