phase I treatment

Braces For Children

Early treatment simplified

There are several ways that kids can benefit from seeing an orthodontist at an early age. But it’s important to recognize that early evaluation isn’t necessarily followed by early treatment. In most cases, if orthodontic work is needed, we simply monitor your child’s growth patterns until we see that it’s time for treatment to begin. This gives us an opportunity to get the best results in the most efficient way, and to help prevent future problems.

Why is age 7 considered the optimal time for screening?

By age 7, the first adult molars erupt, establishing the the bite in the back of the mouth. At this time, we can evaluate the relationship of the teeth from front-to-back and side-to-side. For example, the presence of erupting incisors can indicate possible overbites, underbites, open bites, excessive crowding and blocked out teeth. This age is also a great time to evaluate any permanent teeth that might be missing. Early screening, almost always makes life easier down the road.

Does bringing my child in sooner mean they get braces sooner?

Not at all. The purpose of seeing children by the age of 7, is not so that they can get braces by the time they are 8! It is simply the best time to start monitoring the development of permanent teeth and the growth of the jaws. Some major jaw discrepancies, however, do need early intervention in order to prevent much more complicated treatment in the future. We would always rather plan ahead, rather than find out after it’s too late.

What orthodontic problems can arise at an early age? 

There are many bite issues that can be seen at an early age. Some of these issues are best left for treatment nearer the teenage years, where their natural growth spurt can be utilized. Some of the below issues, however, should not be left unmonitored and untreated until later:

Early Orthodontics Problems of Children

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  • Anterior crossbites – irreversible gum recession can happen if left un-treated
  • Underbites – most important bite deviation to correct because when left alone, the severity can increase significantly (jaw surgery might be needed in the future)
  • Posterior crossbites – if the jaw deviates to one side when they bite down, permanent jaw problems can arise if left untreated until they are a teenager
  • Severe crowding – permanent teeth can be blocked out / prevented from erupting
  • Open bites – the longer these persist, the more complicated they become to treat
  • Protrusion of incisors – upper incisors that are pushed severely forward are at a greater risk of being bumped or fractured during the childhood years
  • Severe deepbites – lower incisors can impinge on the roof of the mouth causing swelling, pain and sometimes recession of the gums
  • Missing teeth / Extra teeth – missing permanent teeth can cause adjacent teeth to drift early on while extra teeth developing can interfere with other teeth erupting
  • Impacted teeth – upper and lower canines are the most common teeth to be impacted – it is critical to predict their probability of impaction and intervene when necessary

Common early treatments

Phase I treatment typically lasts about 1 year, and it usually targets a specific jaw discrepancy. While this treatment is often shorter than full braces, it can be just as important. At this age, the goal is to either favorably enhance the growth of the jaws, correct crossbites, or create enough space for the eruption of permanent teeth. Some common orthodontic treatments at this age include:

  • Palatal Expanders – widen the upper jaw
  • Limited phase of braces –  correct crossbites, severe rotations and spaces
  • Specialized retainers – improve deep overbites and dental underbites
  • Reverse-pull Headgears – encourage upper jaw growth (skeletal underbites)
  • Functional appliances – encourage lower jaw growth (large overbites)
  • Space maintainers – maintain space for permanent teeth when baby teeth are lost early

Correcting Bad Habits

At one time or another, anyone may pick up a bad habit. But there are some situations where a child’s parafunctional (outside of normal function) habits can actually influence the development and function of their teeth, jaws, and mouth. Some examples of these are persistent thumb sucking, tongue thrusting and mouth breathing.

The sucking reflex is natural in early childhood for everyone, and usually disappears between the ages of 2 and 4. If, however, a thumb sucking habit persists during this time, the pressure from the finger on the front teeth can actually cause the teeth to move apart and the jaws to change shape. The effects of this habit can lead to the orthodontic problem called an “open bite,” which may impair speech. An open bite can also be caused by the force of the tongue pushing forward against the teeth (tongue thrusting).

Mouth breathing is an abnormal breathing pattern in which the mouth always remains open, passing air directly to the lungs  and is related to alterations in the muscular function of the tongue and face. It may cause the upper and lower jaw to grow abnormally, which can lead to serious orthodontic problems. Although mouth breathing may start from a physical difficulty, it can become a habitual action that is hard to break.

Various orthodontic treatments are available to help correct these parafunctional habits. The sooner these habits are corrected, the less damage they may cause. But these potential problems aren’t always easy to recognize. That’s one more reason why you should bring your child in for a free orthodontic screening by age 7.


If you have any questions about braces for children, don’t hesitate to contact us today at (203) 288-0900.

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